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New Debate Format Allows Candidates to "Mix it Up" ...

The first presidential debate will take place on Friday.  And while much attention is being paid to the fact that the vice presidential debate won't be as free-flowing as the presidential debates, this attention probably conceals what is arguably the more significant part of the story -- that changes to the presidential debate format will probably make these debates more interesting and contentious than ever:

"Now the candidates will be asked a question, each will give an answer of two minutes or less, and then they will mix it up for five additional minutes before moving on to the next question in the same format."

This may not sound dramatic, but it is a significant change from previous debates where more formal rules prevented any real sort of "debate" between the candidates.  This increases the stakes of the debates (as if the stakes weren't already high enough), and -- I would argue -- probably favors McCain, who is more used to quickly responding to questions (as opposed to giving prepared speeches)... 

But an outcome is also hard to predict.  While Obama's more guarded approach might make him appear aloof, it also might serve to prevent him from making any serious gaffes -- something that McCain's shoot-from-the-hip mentality makes him more vulnerable to.

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