Debate experts said if any history is made Wednesday night, it will be when one of the candidates tosses aside their carefully rehearsed words and goes off script.
President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney are both experienced debaters.
Both will have learned from then President George H. W. Bush not to look at their watch like he did in a debate with then Gov. Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. And don't expect any lock box references like Al Gore famously did.
Sometimes folks think they won a debate like Gore and John Kerry did only to have the meme turn and find out hours later that they apparently actually lost.
"Most presidential debates end pretty much in a tie and then occasionally there are those memorable moments, so I'm looking to see if we have one of those," said Gabe Cook, director of Kansas City Debate.
Ronald Reagan's famous quip rebutting concerns about his age helped pulverize Walter Mondale.
"I want you to know also I will not make age an issue of this campaign," Reagan said. "I'm not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience."
Cook said the line was an incredible zinger.
"That really showed some wit and kind of flipped the age argument on its head and showed he was still witty and ready to be commander," Cook said.
Kansas City Star reporter Dave Helling attended the 1988 vice presidential debate between incumbent Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen. The typical ho-hum debate turned electric when Quayle rebuffed questions about his lack of experience by invoking the memory of John F. Kennedy.
Bentsen, a long-time member of Congress, crushed it.
"I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy," he said with a steely look.
The crowd roared and Quayle could only squeak that Bentsen's comment was uncalled for. But the damage was done.
"The place exploded," Helling said. "Reporters exploded. Reporters said, 'Finally, we have a moment to focus on.'"
But the voters did not. Bush, with Quayle as his veep, won the election.
Expect tonight to have Romney questioned about his 47 percent statement. Obama will face questions about his stance on redistributing wealth.
Helling doesn't expect a game-changer moment.
"With so much at stake tonight, I think you will see more than the usual amount of canned responses from both men," he said.
Debate students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City will be watching closely.
"Not everybody is up to date with all these issues, so making sure you sound not just proficient on the substance of the issue but also the way in which you deliver an argument is particularly important," said senior Juan Garcia.
Both men have to walk the line of not offending swing voters, which means crafting a neutral response is important.
"Some of the issues that will be discussed just won't be important to some voters and some will. So part of it is adapting to the people you know that issue will be important to," senior Alex Bonnet said.
But UMKC Assistant Debate Director Malcolm Gordon said being too bland can hurt a candidate.
"It's really hard to decide who you should vote for, who the superior candidate is if you don't know what that person is going to be advocating for in office," Gordon said.
In addition to connecting with the moderator and the audience, the candidate must practice their stance while they aren't speaking.
"When you're not talking and suppose to be reacting, you have to spend a lot of time practicing that because otherwise you look condescending," Gordon said.
And candidates will even pay attention to what they wear.
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"There you go again." Click here to read about more memorable debate moments.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
Friday, May 17 2013 7:16 PM EDT2013-05-17 23:16:53 GMT
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Friday, May 17 2013 7:11 PM EDT2013-05-17 23:11:46 GMT
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