The fact that tonight's debate will feature a townhall format is obviously very good news for John McCain -- the candidate who has arguably participated in more townhall meetings than anyone in history. He is quick-witted, humorous, and often disarming -- attributes that usually play well in this format. Compound that with the fact that (according to the rules) follow-up questions -- which might allow one disgruntled questioner to hijack the debate -- won't be allowed, and the debate format definitely favors McCain.
He will need it. With less than a month to go until Election Day, there are few remaining opportunities for McCain to narrow the gap. Tonight is one such opportunity -- so it is vitally important that he has a good performance. My advice would be to essentially make the same points that he made yesterday in New Mexico -- which is to say he needs to take off the gloves. But McCain also cannot make the mistake of changing his normal townhall schtick. It will require a delicate balancing act.
Regardless of his style, like a good football game, the winner is usually the one who is on offense the most. Obviously, McCain cannot avoid talking about the economy, but he must also make sure that the economy does not completely dominate tonight's debate -- this would be like playing most of the game on your own 40 yard line.
An obvious pivot is to talk about how, "confronting the economy will take a leader with experience and character -- who knows what it's like to fight -- because, my friends, this is a fight. My opponent doesn't have the experience or the judgment these times require. And I'll always fight for you!," etc.
By doing handling economic questions in this manner, he will avoid any obvious segues, but still be able to focus on character -- an issue he obviously wins on. ... As I write this, I hear a McCain spokesperson saying that character and economy are linked, because the American people need someone they can "trust" on the economy. So true...