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Candidates' Past Performances Hint At First Debate

The first debate between John McCain and Barack Obama is scheduled for Friday night, but its unclear whether it will happen because McCain wants to delay it while Congress deals with the financial crisis. Whenever it happens, there are plenty of clues about what to expect from the candidates — based on their performances during primary season.

Each camp has studied all of the previous debates closely, and each will try to exploit the other's weaknesses. McCain will try to get Obama to seem aloof or too intellectual. Obama will try to push McCain to be overly aggressive and to seem uncontrolled.

The topic for Friday's debate in Oxford, Miss., is foreign policy, an area where their views differ markedly — most notably on Iraq.

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You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.