Watch Your Back, Barack: McCain Will "Distort" Your Views in Debate

Reporter Katharine Seelye warns that John McCain is "handy with the rhetorical shiv" in debates and tells Obama to expect to have his views distorted by McCain.

Watch your back, Barack: John McCain is "handy with the rhetorical shiv" in debates and will "distort" your views. That's the warning reporter Katharine Seelye gave in Tuesday's profile of McCainleading up toFriday night's first presidential debate, "A Scrappy Fighter, With a Debating Style Honed in and Out of Politics."

Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, heads into the first debate on Friday with a track record as a scrappy combatant and the instincts of a fighter pilot, prepared to take out his opponent and willing to take risks to do so.

He has used fairly consistent techniques during his roughly 30 debates on the national stage: he is an aggressive competitor who scolds his opponents, grins when he scores and is handy with the rhetorical shiv. Just ask Mitt Romney, whom Mr. McCain filleted on several occasions in debates during the primaries, perhaps most infuriatingly for Mr. Romney when Mr. McCain misleadingly asserted that Mr. Romney favored a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

A review of several of Mr. McCain's debates shows that he is most comfortable and authentic when the subject is foreign policy. And in a stroke of good fortune, foreign policy is the topic for Friday, the first of three 90-minute debates with Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee.

Voters give higher marks to Mr. McCain as a potential commander in chief, and Mr. Obama should expect Mr. McCain to question his credentials for the job at every turn - and to distort his views, as Mr. Romney insisted he did.

While Seelye saw McCain as eager to stick in the rhetorical knife, Obama's problem is he's just too intellectual, according to John Broder's matching piece, "Obama Carries Uneven Record as Debater to First Contest With McCain."

Senator Barack Obama has shown himself at times to be a great orator. His debating skills, however, have been uneven.

Some of his chief strengths - his facility with words, his wry detachment, his reasoning skills, his youthful cool - have not always served him well and may pose significant vulnerabilities in the series of presidential debates that begins Friday, according to political analysts and a review of his earlier debate performances.

Mr. Obama has a tendency to overintellectualize and to lecture, befitting his training as a lawyer and law professor. He exudes disdain for the quips and sound bites that some deride as trivializing political debates but that have become a central part of scoring them. He tends to the earnest and humorless when audiences seem to crave passion and personality. He frequently rises above the mire of political combat when the battle calls for engagement.