There They Go Again

How do candidates win debates? By practicing everything. Even the spontaneous parts


Challenger Reagan was running behind incumbent Carter until they squared off in Cleveland. Afterward, the Republican never looked back.

Though it sounds secretive and glamorous, debate prep is magnificently unpleasant for everybody involved. The candidates have gripped and grinned their way through a savage jungle of fund raisers, powerful local idiots, soggy state-fair corn dogs and rabid, preening reporters just to get to the debates, a dangerous pinnacle where one slipup could cost the election. The campaign staffs are equally exhausted and by now more than a little frustrated with the candidate they have come to both love and hate. Put them all in a room together in what are often poorly planned prep sessions, and you...

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