(ST. LOUIS) - As hard as the candidates have worked to prepare themselves for the eye of scrutiny that comes with tonight's debate, their campaigns have been working just as hard to raise or lower expectation of how Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will do.
"Governor Palin is one of the best debaters in American politics," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe aboard Biden's plane today.
The compliment was so high, it even made some of the press members laugh at Plouffe.
"If you look at her," Plouffe continued, "No she is. Her 2006 debate, she knew where she wanted to take every question, and so I think she'll be relentlessly on message tonight, and again I'm sure she'll have any number of biting and witty one-liners. But our focus is on the person sitting at home in Canton, Ohio, tonight, Akron, Ohio, tonight, who's struggling economically."
McCain spokesman Ben Porritt had similar ruminations about how well Biden would perform, trying to keep expectations for Palin low.
"We are in the underdog position as we have been all campaign, especially going up against a smooth-talking salesman like Joe Biden. This guy is an experienced debater who won a handful of democrat debates even though his campaign was outgunned," said Porritt.
"I think tonight's debate will again help voters answer one thing. What is more important: rhetoric or an actual record of achievement? McCain-Palin have a history of reform and efforts to challenge the status quo."
Regarding Palin, Porritt said his candidate "will rise to the occasion and lay out the McCain-Palin vision for getting the economy on track and securing victory in Iraq and Afghanistan."
"Governor Palin has an amazing out of leadership qualities and for many American's who are just tuning in, this will be the first time they see these qualities. The more times Americans hear about her record in Alaska, her leadership on ethics reform, and her experience on critical issues like energy independence the more they realize that Obama and Biden have nothing to highlight on their resume."
Plouffe, on the other hand, downplayed Biden's debate experience and admitted people would be looking for "gaffes" from the senator tonight, whose lengthy speeches and long answers to questions sometimes get him into trouble.
"Listen, Joe Biden's gonna talk about what's in his heart, and where Barack and he want to lead the country," said Plouffe.
"And I think that he's a very honest person, plain-spoken person, and I know that they'll be a gaffe-watch tonight. But the gaffes that matter are what George Bush has done to the American people, and what John McCain wants to continue. So, on taxes, on most of the Bush economic policy, on Iraq, McCain's even to the extreme compared to the Bush administration. So these are the gaffes that matter to the American people."
The McCain camp did take Biden down a notch, with Porritt ending his comments by saying, "It will be difficult for Biden to achieve credibility. However he couches his comments he is sticking up for Barack Obama and his record which he has repeatedly criticized in the past. Biden is on record saying that Obama is not ready to lead, he is on record saying Obama's vote against our troops was to make a political point."