The pressure is on for Bob Schieffer.

While most of the coverage has focused on how Bush and Kerry will perform during tonight's Tempest at Tempe, or whatever they're calling it, the moderator will play a key role as the spotlight shifts to domestic issues. How he frames his queries about taxes, health care and education--and what subjects he chooses to include--will have a major impact on the outcome.

Schieffer has been joking about nightmares in which he runs out of questions halfway through, but he really has the opposite problem.

Schieffer told CNN he's been whittling down a list of 100 queries while "talking to other reporters, talking to experts, just talking to people I trust . . . I haven't even told my wife what the final questions are going to be." He said he was "awed" by his first chance to moderate a presidential faceoff.

The "Face the Nation" host has built a reputation for fairness over the decades, but that doesn't mean there haven't been potshots. Some conservatives said he should be dumped to punish CBS over the Dan Rather/National Guard story, though Schieffer had nothing to do with the story.

Others wonder how tough he'll be on Bush, who named his brother Tom ambassador to Australia. I raised the subject with Schieffer last year, and he said he had struck up a friendship in the '90s when W. and Tom were running the Texas Rangers. Bob and the future president went to ballgames together and played golf.

"He's a great guy -- that doesn't mean I agree with him," Schieffer said then, adding that the situation became "a little awkward" when Bush ran for the White House but that he's never gotten favorable treatment. "It's always difficult to cover people you know personally," he says. "But I've been there so long I know all of them personally."

Schieffer, 67, isn't a Russert-type interrogator. He takes a gentlemanly approach on his show and doesn't make it about him. I expect the same restrained approach at the Arizona debate. I'd also be surprised if he wasn't even-handed toward both candidates.

The silver lining for Schieffer: He's pushing a book about the 50th anniversary of "Face."

"Have a question for tomorrow's final presidential debate? Don't tell Bob Schieffer," writes Philadelphia Inquirer | columnist Gail Shister.

"As moderator of the Bush-Kerry rubber match in Tempe, Ariz., CBS's Schieffer has been besieged with e-mails and letters from civilians offering queries for the candidates.

"The single largest shot arrived last week in a 50-pound box - 11,000 written questions from an organization whose name Schieffer insists he can't remember.

"'It was sitting on my desk when I walked into the [Washington] bureau. I've never gotten so much mail. I have to admit I didn't read all of them.'

"He doesn't need to. Schieffer...plans to arrive in Tempe 'with questions in every pocket, I guarantee you.'"

Schieffer shares a secret with the Arizona Republic |

"Odds are good, he says, the most important question won't be among the 40 or so he will have written on the notepad in front of him. It will be the one that occurs to Schieffer as he listens to President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, a question prompted by the candidates' answers.

"'The good question is the one you use to follow up an answer,' said Schieffer. . . . 'It's as important to listen and react as it is to come up with good questions.'"

The Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray says Schieffer should put one issue back on the radar screen:

"Three cheers for Jim Lehrer, Gwen Ifill and Charles Gibson. They have rescued Campaign 2004 from the depravity of 30-second commercials and 10-second sound bites, from Michael Moore, Kitty Kelley and slander masquerading as 'Truth.' They've also reminded us that the much-maligned 'mainstream media' sometimes serves a useful purpose, especially when its journalists can keep their egos in check and their personal politics to themselves.

"But in a way, the moderators of the first three debates had it easy. They were dealing with candidates who, like hungry gamecocks, were eager to battle over Iraq and the war on terror.

"Bob Schieffer has a more difficult task. He has to get George W. Bush and John Kerry to talk about an issue that turns them from gamecocks into just plain chickens. The topic: how to handle the costly retirement of the baby boomers.

"Just mentioning this well-worn subject risks chasing readers off to the next headline. But bear with me, because this is probably the biggest economic- and domestic-policy challenge the next president will face. There isn't much either of these men can do personally to create jobs, or to raise wages, or even to improve American education, since it is largely the responsibility of state and local governments. And their tax tinkering is tiny compared with the fiscal challenges of the baby boomers' retirement."

The New York Times | goes with a Race Tightens debate setup:

"President Bush and Senator John Kerry meet in their final presidential debate on Wednesday night after two encounters that polls suggest weakened Mr. Bush and fortified Mr. Kerry, leaving some Republicans concerned that the final 20 days of the contest would be more competitive than they had expected.

"Republicans who had been confident of victory before the debates said they were uneasy as Mr. Bush returns to a format - 90 minutes of questions from one moderator - that has seemed to play to the strength of Mr. Kerry, a 20-year senator and former prosecutor. Mr. Kerry burnished his credentials in the first two debates, averting an early collapse that Republicans had sought, and Mr. Bush has lost some or all of the lead he had before their first debate in Florida on Sept. 30, a series of recent polls suggests.

"Republicans are also concerned that the debate, in Tempe, Ariz., is the only one devoted to domestic policy, and polls show Mr. Kerry has an edge on many of those issues."

Here's the dilemma facing all of America, but especially Boston:

"Hometown son and Democratic nominee John F. Kerry takes on President Bush tonight in a third and final debate in their fight for the Oval Office," says the Boston Globe. | "But at the same time, the Red Sox are re-engaging a rivalry that has smoldered in the ashes of last year's Game 7 defeat by the New York Yankees.

"There may never be a starker choice in a city with two equally fundamental obsessions, politics and baseball. In stately homes and dorm rooms, nursing homes and bars, university auditoriums and hotel rooms on the campaign trail, decisions are being made about what to watch. None of them are easy."

On the other hand, after last night's 10-7 loss, maybe long-suffering Sox fans should skip the game (unless they think Kerry will continue the Massachusetts losing streak started by Dukakis).

One label is likely to get worn out in Tempe, says the Philadelphia Inquirer: |

"Tonight marks the final story in the Bush-Kerry debate trilogy, otherwise known as 'Episode III: Attack of the L word.'

"The L word made its debut late in Episode II, when President Bush tagged John Kerry as 'the most liberal senator of all.' And the L word was previewed for Episode III on Sunday TV, when Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman twice managed to work Massachusetts and liberal into the same sentence. Clearly, in the domestic-issues debate at Arizona State University, the President will seek to shift the scrutiny to his challenger by invoking the same label his father successfully hung on Michael S. Dukakis in 1988.

"But mysteries abound: Does the L word (and similar phrases, such as tax-and-spend and he's for big government) have the same negative resonance for today's independent and undecided voters that it had during the '80s? Is it fatal, given the fact that the political center has moved rightward since Ronald Reagan? Do the widespread qualms about liberals - as well as traditional voter wariness of promoting a U.S. senator to the presidency - trump the public's concerns about Iraq?. . . .

"Will [Kerry] simply play offense and say that such an attack from Bush is richly ironic, given the fact that this president has spent lavishly, expanded the federal government, and racked up the largest budget deficit in history?"

Kerry may be charming one group of voters, says

American Prospect's Michael Tomasky: |"There's no point in doing a little political punditry in the October of an election year without going way out on a limb, so here goes: As I smelled it, the most important thing that happened in the second presidential debate is that George W. Bush lost a good chunk of the women's vote.

"He's been ahead, you know, among large blocs of women. If you take away black women, who appear to vote more based on their race than their sex (and thus vote heavily Democratic), Bush leads John Kerry among women. The media have made great hoo-ha lately about this fact, noting and arguing that Bush was gaining steadily and building a solid lead among the 'security moms' because of his successful attacks (read: fear-mongering lies) on Kerry's ability to fight terrorism.

"I'm guessing that Friday night, that trend started shifting into reverse. It wasn't any single thing Bush said. It was the manner: the schoolyard swagger, the left arm cocked like an itchy gunslinger's, the arrogant sneer, the roosterish strutting -- and the voice. God, that voice. You don't quite call that screaming. It wasn't exactly caterwauling. Maybe yowling. Whatever it was, he sounded like a tedious and noisome braggart in the parking lot after a football game. Having seen plenty of those, and having been that myself from time to time, experience teaches me to take the view that most women do not find that figure appealing.

"They might have, if Kerry had come across, to extend the metaphor, as the inadequate sad sack portrayed in Bush's television commercials. But he didn't. Kerry was terrific. Far better, by my lights, than he was in the first debate. I know no one else will see it that way, because he was the first debate's obvious winner, while he merely edged out round two on points after Bush didn't show up in where-am-I-again? mode. But Kerry was, if anything, stronger -- more succinct and direct, more challenging to Bush, and tougher -- than he had been in the first debate."

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait | more or less acquits Kerry on one frequent Bush charge:

"Is the notion of Kerry as a flip-flopper a pure fiction contrived by his enemies? Not exactly. Kerry has flip-flopped on issues (as have Gore and Clinton), because flip-flopping, like kissing babies and raising money, is one of the things that politicians do. But defining flipflopping as the essence of Kerry's nature is ridiculous.

"Bush's campaign provides a list of 37 Kerry flip-flops. Of these, six appear to be legitimate reversals. Some of them clearly reflect an attempt to abandon a politically unpopular stance. Kerry opposed capital punishment for terrorists and favored higher gasoline prices, but he later reversed himself on both issues. In 1992, he criticized affirmative action as 'limited and divisive' but did not entirely reject it--before later embracing it without qualification. Like almost every presidential hopeful, he went from con to pro on ethanol subsidies. In all these cases, there's no plausible explanation for Kerry's change of heart other than political expediency. . . .

"The rest of the Bush campaign's list of supposed Kerry flip-flops is simply phony. He voted for the No Child Left Behind Act but castigated Bush for failing to deliver the promised funds. He voted to develop missile defenses but opposed deploying them immediately on the grounds that they didn't work yet. He voted for a bill to spend $87 billion on fighting and rebuilding in Iraq and to pay for it by repealing upper-bracket tax cuts, but he voted against a bill to spend the same money financed by borrowing. (Thus his famous explanation, 'I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it.') And so on. Republicans ridicule Kerry for his 'reversals,' but, in these examples and others, there was a clear difference between what Kerry supported and what he opposed.

"Does this record make Kerry a person of unusually weak convictions, or a normal politician? You can't answer that with mathematical precision, but it is enlightening to compare his flip-flops to those of noted Man of Principle George W. Bush. The liberal Center for American Progress has compiled a list of what it calls 30 Bush flip-flops. Of these, 13 are indisputable reversals. For instance, when running for Congress in 1978, Bush favored abortion rights, then later he flipped. He opposed the McCain-Feingold Act but later signed it. Bush insisted on holding a final vote on going to war at the U.N. Security Council in early 2003--'No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote'--but dropped plans to do so.

"Bush opposed the creation of a Department of Homeland Security before embracing the idea. He did the same on creating an outside commission to investigate WMD intelligence failures. In turn, he opposed creating the 9/11 Commission, opposed allowing it a time extension to finish its work, opposed allowing Condoleezza Rice to testify, and insisted on limiting his testimony to one hour before eventually abandoning each impediment."

Columbia Journalism Review | finds the New York Times | piece on the Kerry family holdings a bit rich:

"The campaign press is more apt to characterize Kerry and Edwards as wealthy than they are Bush and Cheney. But such bickering overshadows what to our mind is a greater journalistic sin: running non-news summer filler pieces on page one of the Sunday paper three weeks away from election day.

"As with a couple of exceedingly wordy stories revisiting President Bush's national guard experience that have run in the national press in the past few weeks, any reasonably informed reader came away from the Times' Kerry article knowing nothing more about the candidate than he or she already did -- namely that Kerry, although not wealthy himself, has, through family, friends, and marriage, managed to surround himself with wealth as he has climbed to the pinnacle of American politics. Also, Kerry likes sports. Fascinating.

"In contrast to the Times' fluffery, readers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel were treated to Craig Gilbert's in-depth breakdown of Bush and Kerry's positions on nuclear proliferation."

That New York Times Magazine | piece in which Kerry said he wanted to reduce terrorism to "nuisance" levels also contained this fascinating passage by author Matt Bai, meeting Kerry in a Santa Monica hotel:

"'Can we get any of my water?' he asked Stephanie Cutter, his communications director, who dutifully scurried from the room. I asked Kerry, out of sheer curiosity, what he didn't like about Evian.

"'I hate that stuff,' Kerry explained to me. 'They pack it full of minerals.'

"'What kind of water do you drink?' I asked, trying to make conversation.

"'Plain old American water,' he said.

"'You mean tap water?'

"'No,' Kerry replied deliberately. He seemed now to sense some kind of trap. I was left to imagine what was going through his head. If I admit that I drink bottled water, then he might say I'm out of touch with ordinary voters. But doesn't demanding my own brand of water seem even more aristocratic? Then again, Evian is French -- important to stay away from anything even remotely French.

"'There are all kinds of waters,' he said finally. Pause. 'Saratoga Spring.' This seemed to have exhausted his list. 'Sometimes I drink tap water,' he added.

"After months of having his every word scrutinized by reporters and mocked by Republicans, Kerry appeared to sense danger in the most mundane of places."

Memo to Kerry: Everyone guzzles bottled water these days.

Finally, with Howard Stern heading to satellite, the FCC seems to be looking for a new target:

"The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday sought to fine 169 Fox television stations a total of $1.18 million for violating decency standards when they aired an episode of 'Married by America,'" Reuters reports. |

Hey, lighten up. It's 2004! What could possibly have aroused the commissioners' ire?

"The FCC said scenes in the 'Married by America' show -- like a topless woman straddling a man, whipped cream being licked off one woman's bare chest and a underwear-clad man being spanked by two female strippers -- were sufficiently graphic and explicit to be deemed indecent."