“Barack Obama and John McCain will take their long-distance name-calling to a more intimate, and perhaps awkward, setting tonight,” said Hans Nichols and Julianna Goldman in Bloomberg. Both candidates promise to be on offense in their “close-quarters, town-hall debate,” but given the nasty, increasingly personal tone in the campaign, that could make for “uncomfortable political theater.”

That’s what people will be tuning in for, said Margery Eagan in the Boston Herald, and “blunt, bareknuckled exchanges would be more honest than the pillow fights we typically get” in these debates. If McCain and Obama really “take the gloves off,” we may get to hear if there’s any substance behind their “newest barrage of attack ads.”

The low blows could prove costly, said John Dickerson in Slate. McCain has been especially aggressive as he slips in the polls, so he must be worried he’ll get a question from a swing voter about the “harsh tone.” Town-hall forums create moments that stick in voters’ minds—“you don’t want Joe Six Pack calling you out” for going negative.