In a close race, Bush and Kerry know the little things can matter most. A guide for those scoring at home

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Aides have given Bush audiocassettes of Kerry's favorite attack lines, which the President listens to as he flies between campaign events on Air Force One and sometimes as he works out. The political team started preparing for this phase of the campaign more than six months ago, during the Democratic primaries. Gathering in the Montana West conference room at the Bush-Cheney headquarters in Arlington, Va., Bush aides and members of the Republican National Committee huddled around the television to watch the Democratic candidates debate, waiting to respond to any attack the major candidates made on the President. Some of the talking points, e-mails and press releases they generated were issued then, but a lot of the other material disappeared into a computer network accessible only to officials of the campaign. The network was set up to test the rapid-response reflexes of the Bush team and perfect a system of information sharing that the President's spinners will use this week to highlight Kerry's misses and Bush's hits on the debate stage.

All those Democratic-primary debates also kept Kerry in practice, his advisers say. And windsurfing wasn't the only thing he was doing in Nantucket, Mass., during the Republican Convention. His campaign has guarded his debate preparation as closely as they did his selection of a running mate, making sure that only a handful of advisers are in the room when he drills. Among them: campaign manager Cahill; admaker and speechwriter Bob Shrum, who helped get Kerry in fighting shape back in 1996; and former top Gore aide Ron Klain. Kerry's longtime adviser Jonathan Winer is charged with making sure the candidate is prepared on every issue. Bush is being played by Greg Craig, who was White House special counsel during Bill Clinton's impeachment trial. Wife Teresa is often on hand for the prep sessions, but one source said she has little to say, at least in front of the others.

Considering that Kerry has vacation homes in Nantucket and Sun Valley, Idaho, and his wife owns an estate near Pittsburgh, Pa., his choice of debate boot camp is downright modest. He has encamped in Wisconsin, 40 miles outside Madison, at the House on the Rock Resort, where a two-room suite goes for $199 a night. The facility provides ample biking and hiking trails for a candidate who aides say doesn't like to do more than about two hours of debate practice in a row without taking a break. It doesn't hurt that House on the Rock is smack in the middle of a crucial swing state where recent polls have shown Kerry struggling.

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