http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122204781847961747.html#printMode SEPTEMBER 22, 2008 To get in the debating mood, Republican John McCain will host a town-hall event and take a short nap. His rival, Democrat Barack Obama, will work out or shoot hoops. And to prepare, Sen. McCain will spar this week in mock debates with Michael Steele. Mr. Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a prominent black Republican, will play Sen. Obama and use many of his speaking patterns, tactics and body language. Sen. Obama will practice with Greg Craig, a Washington lawyer and former official in the Clinton administration who is one of his few gray-haired advisers. [The Gertrude Ford Center at the University of Mississippi is lit up as technicians test lighting ahead of the scheduled presidential debate.] Associated Press The candidates have different ways of preparing for the debates, one at the University of Mississippi. After weeks of TV attack ads and prepared remarks on the stump, the candidates will face off on stage without teleprompters or advisers. With the presidential race in a near dead heat, neither candidate can afford a costly gaffe that sends his campaign into a tailspin. The nationally televised debates are set to begin on Friday and are certain to be among the most watched in history. Each campaign is seeking even the smallest advantage. Obama advisers, for example, are considering how to provoke Sen. McCain into anger or showing what they say is how out of touch, or old, he is. Advisers have told Sen. McCain to watch out when Sen. Obama uses the phrase, "As I've said before..." One McCain adviser said it is used "when Obama actually changes his position, to pretend it's what he's always said." Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden is preparing for the debate with his Republican rival, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, by practicing against another female governor, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan. The campaign selected Gov. Granholm, who like Gov. Palin is also a sports mom and former beauty-pageant winner, to make sure Sen. Biden doesn't comes across as sexist or superior. The McCain campaign is having some trouble finding the right person for Gov. Palin's practice sessions. Sen. Joe Lieberman was considered, but dropped for being insufficiently fiery and loquacious to do a good Biden impression. The campaigns have haggled over whether the debaters should be seated or standing, as well as how much time the candidates have to respond. Both sides wanted "to give as much information to the American people and get in as many questions as possible," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who represented Sen. McCain in the negotiations with Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who represented Sen. Obama. "But we needed to agree on enough rules to be sure it didn't turn into a food fight." Preparing Sen. Obama is Ron Klain, who assisted Sen. John Kerry and Vice President Al Gore in the debates during their failed presidential bids. Mr. Klain was played by Kevin Spacey in the movie "Recount," about the 2000 Florida vote debacle. The McCain campaign has hired Brett O'Donnell, the debate coach who led Jerry Falwell's Liberty University to several national debate championships. He has critiqued all of Sen. McCain's debates, as well as those of Sen. Obama. His advice to Sen. McCain: stand up. Mr. O'Donnell told the campaign that Sen. McCain had his worst debates when he was seated. "Proximity can be a problem for McCain," one adviser said. "He'll take the bait and get sucked into fights." When the Commission on Presidential Debates proposed a debate schedule that included two debates sitting at tables and one town-hall style, the McCain campaign wanted to have one with the candidates standing at lecterns. By contrast, Gov. Palin wanted to be seated during her debate, because she was more comfortable that way during her successful run for Alaska governor. Negotiators agreed the candidates will use a lectern. The Obama campaign is saying that Sen. McCain is a more skillful debater. "In this first debate, John McCain has the home-field advantage with his expertise on foreign policy," said Anita Dunn, senior adviser to Sen. Obama. "McCain needs a knockout." A McCain adviser played down the need for his candidate to win the debate. The important test, this adviser said: Who will American viewers decide is better prepared to lead this country? "People will use John McCain as a touchstone," the adviser said. "Does Obama measure up to McCain?" The first debate, on Friday, will be at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where in 1962 the enrollment of James Meredith, its first African-American student, touched off a deadly riot. The debate commission had directed that this debate would cover domestic issues, but the two campaigns agreed to change it to foreign policy. Sen. McCain's advisers wanted to lead off with his strong suit, foreign policy. Sen. Obama's advisers wanted to have the last debate center on domestic issues, particularly the economy, which they believe will benefit their candidate. Also, some Obama advisers said they didn't want the issue of race "front and center" during a debate. Another point of contention: the time allotted for the candidates to debate each other, rather than simply answer a moderator's questions. Sen. McCain, who prefers pithy, direct responses, wanted a structured format. On the other hand, Sen. Obama favored time for open-ended debate between the two men without intervention from the moderator. The compromise: Each answer will last for nine minutes, two minutes for each candidate and five minutes for them to argue between themselves. Here is some of what the advisers are telling their candidates, based on interviews with both campaigns: To Sen. McCain: Don't be so "brutally honest" that you spell out what you don't know, such as the imploding economy. Don't let early jitters make you come off as "testy." Those superstitious tokens? Make sure they are handy so you aren't thrown if you can't find them. Don't overuse your favorite semantic crutch, "My friends." To Sen. Obama: Don't be so thorough on giving pros and cons that you come off as the law professor you once were. Don't try sarcastic humor that can seem flip, as during one appearance when you said determining when life begins is "above my pay grade." Don't be so objective, or Zen-like, that you don't show your passion. To Sen. Biden: Don't talk too much; it often is your effort to fill silence that can get you into trouble, such as last week when you praised Sen. Hillary Clinton and then went on to add that she would have been a better vice-presidential pick. To Gov. Palin: Don't memorize talking points so that you give rote answers rather than showing your own personality and grasp of issues. Don't say that you can see Russia from parts of Alaska, which you did in your first media interview, which was spoofed by Tina Fey playing you on "Saturday Night Live." The next presidential debates will be on Oct. 7 in Nashville, Tenn., and Oct. 15 in Hempstead, N.Y. The vice-presidential debate will be in St. Louis on Oct. 2.