Preparation for the big debate on Wednesday likely has gone on since June says Tevi Troy, a former official in the George W. Bush administration who served on the "debate prep" team himself for Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in 2004. Now a senior fellow with Hudson Institute and a Washingtonian contributor, Mr. Troy says the elite trainers pore over videotapes of the opposition like crafty football coaches, ultimately seeking to coax "real world" answers from their candidates.
Then there's the pivotal role of stand-in sparring partners. Sen. John F. Kerry has acted as Mitt Romney for President Obama, now in serious prep mode through Tuesday in Henderson, Nev. Sen. Rob Portman has played the president for Mr. Romney; the Ohio Republican adopted similar roles in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 campaigns. Notably, he once played Mr. Obama for Sen. John McCain.
"The key to being an effective stand-in, Mr. Portman says, is to be so tough that the candidate and his family really don't like you. In fact, Cindy McCain walked out of one of Mr. Portman's Obama-channeling attacks, telling him later, 'I was about to throw something at you,'" Mr. Troy observes.