From CBS News' John Bentley:
(NASHVILLE, TENN.) – "When are you going to take the gloves off and just go at him?" John McCain was asked by a frustrated supporter at a town hall earlier this week.
"How about next Tuesday?" McCain replied, referring to tonight's debate here, where both candidates have promised a gloves-dropping performance. At the last debate a week and a half ago, both candidates avoided engaging with each other and instead stuck to their talking points. That may change tonight, as McCain gave a preview of his likely strategy against Barack Obama yesterday, when he sought to portray him as a politician who has never adequately explained his decisions or how he would run the country.
"Who is the real Sen. Obama? Is he the candidate who promises to cut middle class taxes, or the politician who voted to raise middle class taxes? Is he the candidate who talks about regulation or the politician who took money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and turned a blind eye as they ran our economy into a ditch? Which one is it?" McCain said. "Is he the candidate who promises change, or is he the politician who has bought into everything that is wrong with Washington? And he's bought into it big time. We can't change the system with someone who's never fought the system."
Tonight's debate is in a town hall style format, where members of the audience ask the candidates questions. McCain has held over a hundred of these types of meetings on the campaign trail, and he is more comfortable doing town hall meetings than delivering policy speeches or speaking at rallies. That has not escaped the notice of the Obama campaign, who issued a memo this morning that tried to lower expectations for their candidate.
"John McCain does extremely well in town hall settings. It's been his favorite format throughout his career and we think that he will of course do very well," wrote Obama press secretary Bill Burton, but who also added that they expect a more aggressive opponent. "If all he does is attack Barack Obama, as he's said he'll do, it will be yet another colossal missed opportunity. In the face of those attacks, Barack Obama will continue to offer steady leadership, and talk about his plan to give real relief to the middle class and create good jobs here in America."