[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/01/viceprez.jpg caption ="Workers prepare for Thursday's vice presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis. "]
I have been involved in most of the presidential and vice presidential debates over the past 20 years.
I've done debate prep, been a spin doctor, convened the greatest comedy writers in Hollywood in a one-liner factory, even played George W. Bush for Al Gore's practice debates.
So now that I'm merely observing the debates as a CNN political analyst, I thought I'd offer our readers and the candidates my Top 10 rules for debates:
1. Debates are easy. It's a dirty little secret, but for all the hype, debates are easier than news conferences, town-hall meetings or in-depth, one-on-one interviews on Sunday morning television. You hit your mark, you deliver your lines, you try not to pass out or throw up, then you declare victory. So relax, candidates, you might even have fun.
2. 20 questions, 20 answers, one message. This is not "Jeopardy," where you're at the mercy of the topics Alex Trebek (or in this case, Jim Lehrer, Gwen Ifill, Tom Brokaw and Charlie Gibson) select. There is really only one question in an election: Why should we vote for you and not the other candidate?
Your answer to that question - your basic message - should be marbled throughout your substantive answer on everything from Waziristan to Social Security.
John McCain's basic message, it seems to me, is, "I'm experienced, Obama's too risky." Barack Obama's, on other hand, is, "I'm for change, McCain is more of the same."
Each answer to each question should be a variation on that theme. A good debater introduces or ends lots of answers with "That's another example of why we need change... (or experience, or whatever it is he or she is running on) ..."
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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