Tim Russert is NBC News' Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press.  Each week he'll offer MSNBC.com's readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.

MSNBC: Tim, what should we expect to see differently from each of the candidates tonight in St. Louis?

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Russert: Well, first and foremost, it’s all eyes on President George W. Bush after a lackluster performance in the first debate the American people are going to size him up very carefully. I don’t think we’ll be seeing President Bush making faces and grimaces and all those things that he joked about through the course of this week.

I think these candidates will be fully engaged on Iraq. John Kerry will be talking about the Duelfer report about no weapons of mass destruction and quoting former Ambassador Paul Bremer about not having enough troops in Iraq.

I look for the President to push hard on John Kerry, saying, “You know, you keep saying you have this plan. What would you do differently? The Germans and French aren’t coming in. I’m training the Iraqis. Specifically senator, where do you disagree with me?

I think its going to have the makings of a very good debate.

MSNBC:  Because of the “Town Hall” format, could this debate be significantly different?

Russert: This format is interesting, because it is so unpredictable.

Who knows what these 100 undecided voters are going to ask. It could be a combination of Iraq, of the economy, health, or something personal. You just don’t know.

Video: Russert analysis Both these candidates have to stay engaged and connect with people by speaking simple English and not political spin.  They must relate to people in a very real way and not be perceived as aloof, or too senatorial or too presidential – anything along those lines.

These town halls are a real window for the American people too see how a man’s mind works when he’s standing there in front of average Americans.

MSNBC: The burden in this second debate seems to be on President Bush to rebound and even the score with Sen. Kerry.

Russert: Even his closest supporters acknowledge the first debate was a lackluster performance. It reminded me very much of Ronald Reagan in 1984, where, after a dismal first debate, he bounced back in the second one against Walter Monday with that witty line about, “I won’t use your youth and inexperience against you.”

MSNBC: Does the final report on weapons in Iraq automatically put President Bush on the defensive?

Russert: I have no doubt John Kerry’s going to use it. The events on the ground in Iraq, the Duelfer report saying there were no weapons of mass destruction, Ambassador Paul Bremer’s comments saying the United States should have had more troops – they are all arrows in John Kerry’s quiver as he tries to make the case against the war on Iraq and against George Bush and his mismanagement of it.

The president will say, “We have to stay the course.” John Kerry will say, “Change the course.”

This campaign’s engaged – largely on the issue of Iraq.

In 2000, it was “Florida, Florida, Florida.” I now deeply feel, in 2004 it is “Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.”

And, as goes the situation on the ground, so goes the American psyche.

Do people want to stay the course or change the course? We’ll find out November 2nd.

MSNBC: Should we look to see President Bush respond to Senator Kerry’s assertions that the United States didn’t finish the job in Tora Bora – that Osama bin Laden was cornered and they let him go - as well as his claim that the Bush administration is not being straight with the American public?

Russert: Yeah, I think the president will have to have a response to the Tora Bora situation, and, having been asked that before, in the last debate, he’ll have gone back to his advisors and crafted a very coherent response.

I also look for the president to go after John Kerry, saying, “You know, you keep talking about your plan to internationalize, but the French, the Germans and others have been very specific – they are not sending troops no matter who the president is. So, what exactly would you do different than me? Train the troops? I’m doing it. Bring in NATO? I’m doing it. What would you do differently?”

I look for the president to engage on that and then for John Kerry to counter, “Of course these countries are saying that, because they’re never going to cooperate with you because you dissed them in the build up to the war.”

It should be quite an exchange.

MSNBC: In light of the reports of the United Nations oil for food money being used by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to bribe French and Russian and Chinese officials, is John Kerry hurt given concern about his wanting international approval of some parts of U.S. foreign policy,

Russert: Sure. It raises questions and you look for George Bush to repeat the term, “Global test, global test,” five or six times.

It’s just the kind of situation where people raise their eyebrows and say, “Okay, what does this mean? Do we want the United Nations to have a veto? Do we want the French or Germans to have a veto?

I think John Kerry has to take very deliberate steps to make sure, to reassure the American people that he will always protect the United States and not seek a permission slip from anyone else.

MSNBC: Changing directions here. Are the ethic charges, campaign finance questions, etc., aimed at Rep. Tom Delay anything more than election year charges and are they going anywhere?

Russert: Well, this is an ethics committee that was bipartisan and it was unanimous. There were republican votes that found some conduct that was not becoming of a member of the house on three different occasions.

Democrats have called for his resignation, but that’s not going to happen. The real issue is when Tom Delay decides he wants to run for the Speaker of the House, whether members of his own party will find that to be appropriate. The real question is about his future.

MSNBC: Sunday, on Meet the Press, you should have quite an opportunity to review the debate.

Russert: We’re going to have Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards. We’ve invited Vice president Dick Cheney to appear also, anytime between now and the election – equal opportunity. And then we’ll have a Colorado Senate debate – Democrat Ken Salazar against Peter Coors – the famous beer corporate executive and the Republican candidate. We have quite a program.


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