11/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Presidential Debate Tonight: McCain, Obama Camps Ratchet Up Expectations For A Fight

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Everyone expects tonight's debate to be a slug-fest since John McCain and Sarah Palin turned up the heat in the last couple of days with nasty, personal attacks aimed at Barack Obama. Governor Palin 'advised' Senator McCain to "take the gloves off" during a conversation with NY Times columnist William Kristol. McCain predicted that the gloves would come off during an event last week:

With just four weeks left until Election Day, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are preparing to face off in Tuesday night's high-stakes presidential debate.

At a campaign event in Denver, Colorado, last week, a voter asked McCain when he was going to "let the gloves come off and go after" Obama.

McCain's response: "How about Tuesday night?"

On Obama's plane today, chief strategist David Axelrod said Obama wouldn't be afraid to counterpunch if McCain tries to smear him.

Senator Barack Obama is prepared to hit back, including with Keating Five scandal if necessary, if Senator John McCain uses tonight's presidential debate to attack him over his associations with controversial figures like former William C. Ayers, the former Weather Underground leader, Mr. Obama's chief strategist said this afternoon.

The strategist, David Axelrod, also took a dig at Mr. McCain in a conversation with reporters on the Obama campaign plane, saying that Republicans were off-base to criticize small donations from overseas to Mr. Obama - noting that anyone in the world who buys an Obama T-shirt online would have their payment listed as a donation.

If Tuesday night's confrontation echoes the most recent campaign exchanges, it could be far more personal and pointed than the two men's Sept. 26 encounter. McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, has raised Obama's ties to 1960s-era radical William Ayers and to the Democrat's former pastor, the incendiary Rev. Jeremiah Wright. On Monday, McCain accused Obama of lying about the Republican senator's record, and asked, "Who is the real Sen. Obama?"

Obama's campaign rolled out a video recounting McCain's involvement in the 1980s Keating Five savings and loan scandal, while Obama himself accused McCain of engaging in "smear tactics" to distract from economic issues.

Both nominees have condemned character attacks in the past, and some supporters are urging them to cool the rhetoric.

The Politico lowers expectations for a fight tonight, with the article "Despite fighting words, few expect punches." Politico's article fails to quote Axelrod, who told a team of reporters on the trip down to Nashville that Obama wouldn't be afraid to throw a counterpunch at McCain.

More from The Politico:

But while both sides arrived in here in a brawling mood -- with McCain, in particular, under growing pressure to bloody Obama -- aides and advisers to both candidates say that tonight's town-hall-style debate is no place to throw a punch.

"There's a lot of talk about nastiness and personal attacks, but in this type of format, that is a huge mistake," said Bob Barnett, a Democratic lawyer who negotiated the debate's ground rules on Obama's behalf. "You have to be respectful to the audience questioners, you have to be respectful of the Internet questioners, and you have to have the viewers who are watching feel that you are responding to the voters and the citizens who are asking the questions."