Who are the target audiences right now? Because really, how each of them will do will depend on what each of them are trying to accomplish with each target audience segment.
The are the core for each side. Each candidate wants to help motivate their respective bases to come out in numbers.
Palin seems to have helped McCain there some, but he still needs to close the deal. Of course the more he seals that deal the more he rev’s up Obama’s core too, and the more he risks alienating some of the middle.
Obama’s core is pretty well revved already. He more needs to perform in a way that makes the GOP’s core less revved to vote against him (even if they see little to vote for inMcCain).
And then there are those who really haven’t made up their minds yet, or not solidly so anyway. Those voters will not be swayed by issues or facts but by their gut reaction listening to them talk. Do they get a sense that this is someone they trust? Someone who shares their values? Someone they feel comfortable with as “leader”?
Of those targets the last is the most meaningful at this stage in the game and McCain’s ability to tell a good story may play well. His only problem is that he can not get away telling the same stories over and over again. He’s pretty well used up his ability to rehash his POW stories. His biography is known by all. So he has to be able to be quick witted and lively so that he isn’t perceived as doddering and grumpy. He needs to keep distancing himself from Bush while satisfying the core. He does that and he wins as much as he can.
Obama for his part needs to avoid his "uh"s and give clear definitive strong answers with two or three points max. No complex treatises on the greys. He needs to show that he can be in charge and decisive (without arrogance) and he needs to be “relatable” at the same time. He has to represent change while reassuring that his change isn’t all that scary big of a change. All while keeping the message going that McCain-Palin is just Bush and then some. He does that and he wins as much as he can.
Each have tough needles to thread.
Winning as a debate, logically making points? That victory matters naught. For these target audiences these debates play to the guts of the voters, not their brains.
My guess, McCain’s team will declare he won, Obama’s team will say he won, and the polls will show no real movement … and status quo right now favors Obama again.