The Note: The Clash

We're going there: "Both campaigns have signaled a willingness to engage on character in tonight's debate, a town hall-style event at Belmont University in Nashville in which the candidates will answer questions submitted by the audience and from voters online," Scott Helman and Sasha Issenberg write in The Boston Globe. "GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin told voters in Florida yesterday that McCain 'might as well take the gloves off.' And a senior Obama strategist suggested the Illinois senator was prepared to cite the Keating case if warranted."

A frustrated base wants it all out there (sound familiar?): "Fearing Mr. McCain is fast running out of time to structurally change the election's strategic political focus, Republican strategists say that his only hope now is to make his rival's judgment, inexperience, liberalism and tax increases the central issues in the campaign's remaining weeks," Donald Lambro reports in the Washington Times.

Some advice from his running mate: "I'm sending the message back to John McCain also: Tomorrow night in his debate, might as well take the gloves off," Palin told donors in Florida Monday, Dana Milbank reports in The Washington Post.

(More from Milbank: "Palin's routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her 'less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media.' At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, 'Sit down, boy.' ")

(Another crowd member, upon mention of Obama's ties to Bill Ayers: "Kill him!")

"It could be ugly if Monday's tussling is any indication," the AP's Liz Sidoti writes. "McCain, a four-term Arizona senator, is trailing in polls and facing dwindling options to thwart Democrat Obama in an enormously troublesome political landscape for Republicans. Obama, the first-term Illinois senator, wants to solidify his lead and avoid any major debate misstep that could set him back in his quest to become the country's first black president."

Too late for this message? "Both campaigns have long planned for this newly negative moment, but with the world embroiled in an economic meltdown, the script is taking unexpected turns -- and the old lines of attack could fall flat," Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Rather than command public attention, as the Wright controversy did, the debate over Obama's past is being overshadowed by the loss of thousands of jobs every day and a steep decline in the stock market. With voters overwhelmed by major news events, character attacks can easily be lost in the din."

The National Review's Rich Lowry calls it "madness" for McCain to try to change the subject thusly: "It doesn't matter how many times Sarah Palin rips Obama for consorting with Ayers, or if the McCain campaign runs exclusively Ayers and Wright TV ads for the next four weeks -- the subject of the campaign will remain resolutely unchanged. . . . Not having a compelling economic message before the financial crisis hit was malpractice; now it's madness."

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