We are entering the home stretch before the first primary contests. Third quarter fundraising totals will come out after Friday at a time of each campaign's choosing. John Edwards and Barack Obama are competing to pick up the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) endorsement. Three days ago, Hillary Clinton turned it up a notch and appeared on all five Sunday talk shows. This is the real deal, folks.
Tonight's debate is by far the most critical of any others thus far. Not only do we have about 100 days until the first vote, but this debate happens to be in New Hampshire, which is likely to leapfrog Nevada and vote second. Analysts are expecting a large viewing audience tonight in the Granite State. With a lot on the line, here is what each of the major candidates must do:
Hillary Clinton: Don't mess up. You coasted through the five news shows on Sunday unscathed. Good job. Now here comes a harder test. This is a field of candidates know you are the front-runner, and will do anything to pick you apart as a Washington insider. So take the hits, but don't take any rhetorical risks. This debate is yours to lose.
Barack Obama: Think aggressive and think big. This is the one downside of branding yourself as above the typical political discourse. Sometimes you have to get your feet muddy and play hardball. Tonight is one of those nights. In a new CNN poll, Obama trails Clinton by 20 points. The deficit was only 9 points in July. Obama must be aggressive. So how do you do that against the Clintons? Think big -- which is everything the Clintons are. Think in terms of big ideas. Play to your strengths by wowing people with your charisma. Remind New Hampshire voters what they liked about you in 2004 and earlier this year during your Chicago announcement. It's time to step it up, or get out of the way and let someone else take on Hillary.
John Edwards: Be the anti-Hillary candidate. For Edwards, this debate should not be about Hillary Clinton -- it should be about Barack Obama. The SEIU stopped short of endorsing Edwards because they were worried about whether he was better suited than Obama to beat Hillary. With that endorsement hanging in the balance, Edwards will need to make the case that he, not Obama, is the most viable alternative to the former First Lady.
Bill Richardson: Think big and loosen up. People know about his resume and his position on Iraq. What people don't know is what kind of person he is, and what kind of political philosophy he would implement. Richardson also needs to show some passion, and not come across as too polished. He is a western Senator, and he should look like it. Loosen up a bit too while you are at it. Tell some jokes, and at least try to mean them this time.
Joe Biden: Don't yell. People know you are passionate about foreign policy. But show that same passion on other issues too. And while you are at it, stop yelling -- it's not very presidential. Voters have been waiting for him to show a softer side. Like Richardson, show voters what kind of person you are.
The debate starts at 9 PM ET. Don't forget to join us for the live chat. Yap away with fellow progressives as you watch the debate on television.