• Barack Obama and John McCain will participate in their second presidential debate tonight. It will be held under a highly constricted town hall-style format where questions from undecided voters in the audience (and the Internet) will be submitted to moderator Tom Brokaw, approved, then asked by the person who wrote them (if available). There are no follow-up questions from anyone (although moderator Brokaw isn't actually a party to these terms) and the candidates aren't allowed to engage one another. Sounds like a hoot. Meanwhile an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that Obama and Biden have scored higher marks than McCain and Palin on the debate stage and are more trusted on every issue other than Iraq. (The two tickets are tied on tax policy.)
  • The new, "liberated" Sarah Palin seems to be relishing in her role as attack dog for the McCain campaign, whipping a Florida crowd into a frenzy with shots against Obama's patriotism and attacks on the media. As Dana Milbank reports, "At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, 'Sit down, boy.'" Truly a grand, grand old party.
  • Speaking of bigotry, Ben Smith notes a breakdown in V.O Key's classic analysis of wedge issues: "An Obama supporter, who canvassed for the candidate in the working-class, white Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown recently, sends over an account that, in various forms, I've heard a lot in recent weeks. 'What's crazy is this,' he writes. 'I was blown away by the outright racism, but these folks are f***ing undecided. They would call him a n----r and mention how they don't know what to do because of the economy.'"
  • John Heilmann has a must-read piece in New York on how McCain lost his brand. He concludes with the all-too-clear consequence of McCain handing his campaign over to Rove protege Steve Schmidt: "The new McCain may have won some news cycles, but he is losing the contest of the meta-narrative -- and with it, perhaps, the election."
  • Newt Gingrich, in the midst of a much longer analysis, has some advice for John McCain: Break with Bush-Paulson on the bailout. Too bad McCain already made a show of suspending his campaign to work on legislation he contributed nothing to before voting for the package he said Bush should have vetoed. But hey, what's another flip-flop with a month to go?
  • In confronting Ayers mania, David Axelrod breaks down the timeline of Obama's relationship to the former radical, concluding that Obama may or may not have known about Ayers' past at the time he sat on an advisory board with him, but instead "when he [Obama] came to Chicago, Ayers was advising Mayor Daley on school reform issues and that was his profile was that he was an expert on education issues."
  • George Packer has a detailed profile of Ohio's working-class voters.
  • In truly game-changing fashion, Chuck Hagel's wife has endorsed Barack Obama. My money's on Alma Vivian Johnson Powell being next.
  • And finally, David Letterman apparently can't hold a grudge and is negotiating to host his buddy John McCain around the final presidential debate on Oct. 15. I don't know about you, but that just tugs at the 'ol heartstrings of this bitter cynic.

--Mori Dinauer