Is anyone else worried about tonight's debate? Frankly, I'm worried about all of them -- Edwards and Kerry are now the favorites in all three, which means that a mere hint of human decency on Cheney's part, or of maturity on Bush's, could upend expectations and set off a new round of "the complexion of the race has changed again" stories.
In the two remaining presidential debates, Kerry will be helped by the fact that he really is good, yet it's still a surprise every time he hits the center of the target; moreover, at least in the next debate, Bush, with his lack of impulse control, will be trying not so much to persuade voters as to get vengeance against Kerry, which means he might be as snappish and unlikable as he was last week. On the other hand, in the next debate he'll almost certainly be cooed over by at least some of the voters asking questions -- maddeningly, the New York Times/CBS poll finds that 61% of voters think of Bush as someone they "would like personally" (Kerry gets 48%) -- and he'll respond to that stroking of his ego; he'll grin and chuckle and a lot of people will just eat it up.
As for tonight, Edwards has to worry about seeming soft and about seeming slick, whereas Cheney just has to flash one or two glimpses of humanity before telling us Kerry will get us all killed. I predict that whatever the first question is, Cheney will mention his grandchildren, and that will surprise everyone expecting Darth Vader, after which he can be Darth Vader for the rest of the debate.
I don't know how Edwards beats expectations. Then again, he made a lot of money surprising people.