Long before the first presidential debate of 2012 takes place tonight in Denver, the attorneys for President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney had hashed out the smallest details of the evening.
Benjamin Ginsberg, the Patton Boggs partner who is counsel to the Romney campaign, told an audience in Denver today that the negotiations about the debate were "not terribly contentious," at least compared with previous elections.
In a past debate, someone demanded the temperature in the hall be exactly 58 degrees, Ginsberg told the audience at a 2012 Presidential Debate Preview put on by Politico. When the moderator pressed for more details, Ginsberg only said: "I will not name that Democrat."
But this year, Ginsberg said his counterpart for the negotiations was Robert "Bob" Bauer, a D.C.-based partner at Perkins Coie, counsel to Obama's re-election committee and former White House counsel, and that both of them had "danced the dance" before.
Ginsberg said the major decisions about the debates are made through the Commission on Presidential Debates, which picks the locations and moderators long before it's clear who the nominees are. The other details, such as the stage set-up, fall to the negotiators like Ginsberg and Bauer.
Ginsberg compared those negotiations to deciding how high the infield grass should be when preparing for a baseball game.
As for the debate itself, dubbed the "Duel in Denver" by this morning's Denver Post headline writers, Ginsberg and Robert Gibbs from the Obama campaign both said it would be an opportunity for their candidates to speak directly to voters without the filter of the media.
Both sides also said the candidates would be focused on economic issues.
At least one court watcher expects a question tonight about appointing judges. And Curt Levey, a constitutional law attorney and president of the conservative Committee for Justice in Washington, says the question would be an opportunity for Romney.
"Barack Obama's answer will be fairly mundane," Levey wrote in an opinion piece printed Tuesday in The Hill. "The president will likely stand on his appointment of Supreme Court Justices Kagan and Sotomayor and repeat his line about picking nominees with empathy for women and ordinary folks."
"But for Mitt Romney, whose record on federal judicial appointments is yet to be written, the judges question provides an opportunity for a memorable answer -- one that can win him the votes of conservatives, independents and libertarians."
The debate takes place from 9 to 10:30 p.m. EST at the University of Denver, with moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS.
The debate will focus on domestic policy and be divided into six time segments of approximately 15 minutes each on topics to be selected by Lehrer, according to the presidential debate commission.
Lehrer will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a discussion of the topic.