Candidates' goal: Try to look presidential

Barack Obama and John McCain will both pursue the image of a strong leader in troublesome economic times as they meet tonight for their third and final presidential debate.

Their 9 p.m. face-off comes as Obama widens his lead in typically Democratic states and campaigns with an air of optimism about his prospects, while McCain seeks a way to gain ground and finds himself defending traditionally Republican states with less than three weeks left in the race.

The 90-minute debate, held at Hofstra University on New York's Long Island, is expected to draw a television audience of at least 60 million Americans. And while the first two debates were panned as uneventful, CBS's Bob Schieffer, the moderator for the final event, has promised to keep the candidates focused.

“By now we've heard all the talking points,” Schieffer said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “We've heard the general outlines of what they are talking about. The time has come to be a little more specific.”

Schieffer will be seated at a table with Obama and McCain, much as he conducts interviews on his Sunday morning program “Face The Nation.”

“McCain has 48 hours to turn this around, and the debate is an essential part of that,” pollster John Zogby said in an interview.

“He has to be more gracious, as big as a hero can be, not as small and snarky as he has been. He has to be the centrist maverick, the gadfly and the successful legislator, the consensus builder not the grumpy partisan. For now he is not only close to losing an election but also risking a loss of his reputation.”