And as we get ready for the debate...

Remind me never to wish for a shakeup in the race ever again. You’d think that I’d have learned my lesson in 2000, when I hoped that the election wouldn’t be the usual “we all knew the answer by 9 PM” lopsided victory. Clearly, somebody listens to my errant whims – and, yes, that worries me, too.

But seriously: this is going to be different; say what you like about the results, but McCain has shaken up the landscape thoroughly in the last two days. So we need to take a look at what each candidate needs to accomplish tonight. Discussion after the fold.Barack Obama. Senator Obama can win the election tonight; all he has to is provide a positive message that demonstrates his experience, preparation, consistency, conciseness, and inherent good judgment, no matter what adversity and no matter what criticism – and no matter what unexpected twists and turns may come, several of which will come up during the course of the debate.

In other words, Senator Obama will probably not win the election tonight. Senator McCain may choose to lose it, but the central problem facing the junior Senator from Illinois is that this is going to be a rough debate for him. To put it very bluntly, when distracted, tired, or annoyed – and McCain has probably given him a raging case of all three by now – Obama has a tendency to default to blathering. He also has even a worse case of the “uhs” than I do. Worst of all, he’s used to an audience forgiving him for both traits – so it’s going to be interesting to see whether he can compensate for it. And there is one last bit: Senator Obama is used to fighting either fellow-Democrats, or easily-dismissed Republican opponents. John McCain is neither, so he doesn’t care if the progressives are mad at him at the end of the night or not.

That being said, as long as Obama doesn’t make too many rookie mistakes he’ll probably not lose the election tonight, either. But he can easily erase his lead up to now… and I don’t know whether anybody’s sat on him and made him listen to that inconvenient truth. To be honest, I don’t know if anybody at this point is capable of making Senator Obama listen to anything at all – which is never a problem. Until it is – and when it is, it tends to be a doozy.

So, no pressure there, Barry.

John McCain. Love him or hate him – and lots of people at that debate are going to hate him, as the Corner points out – John McCain’s campaign certainly isn’t dull. He’s also on the knife’s edge right now. Essentially what McCain has done in the last two days was reach into the media narrative and force it into focusing on him. The risks and benefits are both obvious, and it was and is a gambit. Many people think that it failed.

But. The debate is going to have more viewers than it did before, and it’s on foreign policy, where McCain is well-vetted and Obama is still catching up. When the economy comes up – and it will – McCain is much more at risk for his activities (many would say, “stunts”) over the last two days, but there’s one wrinkle that needs to be considered. Right now the bailout is exceptionally unpopular. Right now John McCain is being associated with the people pushing back on it. Right now Barack Obama… is currently perceived as voting “Present.” That will change.

All that being said, McCain is 72, and he’s taking a heck of a risk that he’s going to be rested enough and knowledgeable enough to do this debate on what is essentially the fly. So is his opponent, but remember: McCain can lose this debate. And a tie will go to his opponent.

So no pressure there, John.