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Most Chicago TV viewers will be shuttling between the football game and the debate. The Bears game has a big viewership advantage because of its earlier start—kickoff is 7:30, whereas the debate begins at 8. This means Chicagoans will learn a lot more about Syria if Jay Cutler has a bad night.
The focus of the debate is foreign policy, and critical questions will be answered, such as which candidate will be the first to declare that U.S. soldiers are the bravest, strongest, and best looking in the world.
Whichever candidate wins the toss will receive the opening question, although if it's about Afghanistan, kicking it away would be smarter.
Foreign policy is even more complex than domestic policy, and the best answer to many questions is "Depends on the circumstances." But answering a debate question that way is like running up the middle: it may be smarter, but most fans prefer the thrill of the deep pass.
The winner of a debate, like the winner of a football game, is usually the one with the most effective lines. Look for Romney to lean on "Hope is not a strategy," and for Obama to call Romney's plan to threaten Iran a "sketchy deal."
Romney would be wise to avoid bragging that he has "binders full of generals" eager to work for him. Much of the Las Vegas action is on whether Obama can go ten minutes before reminding viewers that bin Laden is now dead.
Moderators have played important roles in the first two presidential debates. In the first debate, both candidates tended to continue to compete long after the moderator blew his whistle. This was the result of a moderator strike that forced the use of a replacement moderator. The strike was settled before the second debate, and the return of a professional moderator, Candy Crowley, proved crucial. Late in the contest, Romney charged that Obama had taken too long to label the raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi a terror attack. Obama threw a challenge flag, and, on further review, Crowley ruled that Obama had in fact called it an act of terror the day after it happened.
Both candidates tonight will be waiting eagerly to pounce on a mistake. The race is too close to call, and could turn on a Charles "Peanut" Tillman pick-six moment. So could the Bears' game, but the Bears are favored by almost a touchdown. The fate of the free world may be riding on the debate, so any responsible citizen would watch it instead of a measly football game. Then again, it's not every night you can go 5-1.
Read more from Debate Week, this week's Variations on a Theme: