The Note: The Clash

Dick Morris and Eileen McGann remember that Obama hasn't been a great closer: "October may see the end of Obama's surge: He's peaking too soon," they write in their New York Post column. "Once the Democrat is seen as the clear leader and likely winner, the spotlight will inevitably shift to him. And he may not benefit from the increased attention."

Back to the debate -- will the setting work for the messaging? "A presidential campaign increasingly dominated by character attacks collides with a debate format meant to produce serious discussion of kitchen-table issues," Larry Eichel writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"As the two candidates roam around on a stage in close quarters, interacting with the kind of voters who tend to dislike negative campaigning, how does McCain go on the attack?" Newsday's Tom Brune writes.

"The presidential candidates will be seated six feet apart, on a horseshoe-shaped stage in Nashville, Tennessee, as the campaign grows increasingly tense and personal. Both nominees pledge to stay on offense during their second face-to-face debate, which could make for uncomfortable political theater," per Bloomberg's Hans Nichols and Julianna Goldman.

"Candidates tone it down in the town halls, fearful of being seen as too confrontational or too aggressive when they're within spitting distance of actual voters. So today's town hall debate in Nashville, Tenn., poses a problem for Republican Sen. John McCain," Joe Garofoli writes in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Can/should McCain's attacks get traction? "The McCain campaign has made clear that it wants to change the subject. We can, and should, change it back," Eugene Robinson writes in his Washington Post op-ed.

"If Niccolò Machiavelli were to envision an economic crisis that would cripple the Republicans prior to Election Day, he couldn't do much better than one precipitated by the banking industry," Jay Cost writes for Real Clear Politics.

There's always the chance for wild cards: "It might be a snooze-fest, full of earnest questions and foggy bromides. But with the spike in negativity coming just ahead of the meeting, there is a chance that one of the two candidates will have to face a question about the harsh tone," Slate's John Dickerson writes.

On the format: "The questioners can become enforcers -- if a candidate gets called out by a questioner they lose the exchange altogether," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Tuesday.

Hoping for a question Tuesday night: A full-page ad appears in Tuesday's Nashville Tennessean from the "Equity and Inclusion Campaign," asking the candidates to commit to Gulf Coast rebuilding efforts in the first 100 days of their administrations.

The Sked:

The marquee event is McCain vs. Obama at the second presidential debate, town-hall style, splitting domestic and foreign-policy issues, at 9 pm ET at Belmont University in Nashville. Your moderator (not asking follow-ups): Tom Brokaw.

Joe Biden attends the 10 am ET funeral service for his mother-in-law, Bonny Jean Jacobs, in Abingdon, Pa.

Michelle Obama holds a community event in Jacksonville, N.C. at 1:30 pm ET.

Sarah Palin sits down for an interview with Fox's Greta Van Susteren Tuesday. She stays in Florida for a Jacksonville fundraiser and a 3:30 pm ET rally in Pensacola, before heading to Greenville, N.C., for a second rally at 7 pm ET.

I'll be live-blogging from Nashville, starting Tuesday afternoon and all through the debate.

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