With Democratic challenger Walter Mondale trailing President Reagan by as much as 30 percentage points in the polls, the televised debates on Oct. 7 and 21 may be Mondale's last, best chance to close the gap. Before they clear their throats one final time and the red on-air light signals the start of the contest, both men will have sharpened up with sparring sessions against stand-ins and studied scouting reports on their rival. As an aid to discriminating debate viewers, PEOPLE invited a panel of political consultants and commentators to rate the candidates, offering tips, strengths, strategies and debating points to watch for. Robert Squier is a Democratic political consultant. Joseph Kraft is a syndicated columnist, as is James J. Kilpatrick. Jerry Rafshoon was Jimmy Carter's media adviser in the 1976 campaign. Ted Sorensen was chief speech writer and adviser for John F. Kennedy in the debates with Richard M. Nixon. John Sears is a Republican campaign consultant. Asked to predict the outcome of the debates, the group agreed there would most likely be a modest gain in underdog Mondale's poll standing whether he wins the debate or not.

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  • Contributors:
  • Robert Squier,
  • Joseph Kraft,
  • James J. Kilpatrick,
  • Jerry Rafshoon,
  • Ted Sorensen,
  • John Sears.