After a Democratic supporter was stomped on outside of Rand Paul and Jack Conway's 2010 KET debate, it will be a win for everybody if there's no violence outside the studio when Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes meet Monday night.
That's called lowering expectations.
Both McConnell, the U.S. Senate Minority Leader vying for a sixth term, and Grimes, the Democratic Kentucky secretary of state running in only her second political race, have done a fair job of lowering expectations for how they might perform against each other.
McConnell and Grimes traded dueling disasters in the days leading up to Monday's showdown, with McConnell being blasted by Democrats for a "needlessly angry" performance on Kentucky Sports Radio and Grimes going viral as political analysts of all stripes lined up to mock her refusal to say whether she voted for President Barack Obama.
"Debates matter most when a candidate makes a foolish mistake, and we know both candidates are more than capable of flubbing relatively easy public appearances, so there's danger here for both sides," said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.
"The few times they've appeared to go off script, the results have been awkward or worse," Voss said.
That was especially true recently as neither candidate looked to be in top form, drawing ridicule from national media outlets for their missteps.
A campaign will traditionally try to lower expectations for its candidate's performance before a debate, but Billy Piper, a former top aide to McConnell, went a different route, saying Saturday that he thinks McConnell, who routinely speaks on the issues of the day when the U.S. Senate is in session, has an edge in the showdown.
"I think his job is really straightforward, and that's just to do what he does virtually every day and talk about the issues," Piper said. "He's got a real advantage here."
Pointing to the storm of criticism Grimes faced after refusing four times to tell the Courier-Journal's editorial board whether she voted for Obama, Piper said that while McConnell is comfortable with his positions on the issues "she ... could have a debate against herself."
But both candidates face real risks, and Democrats believe for McConnell that risk is rooted in the anger he flashed during an interview last week on a popular University of Kentucky sports radio show.
"You just have to listen to him on Kentucky Sports Radio to see that he is only an inch away from showing his true personality," said Mike Ward, a former Democratic U.S. congressman and Grimes ally. "I think people are going to be wondering if the next thing he says is 'get off my lawn,' because he lives in a world where people don't challenge him."
Locked in such a tight race down the stretch and with only one debate scheduled, McConnell and Grimes are likely to focus on avoiding mistakes, even if that's at the expense of scoring points.
"It's possible that both campaigns genuinely think they're ahead by a few percentage points, with leads they don't want to blow," Voss said. "Likely they'll both try to stick to their comfort zones, which means clever but carefully plotted lines for Grimes and informed but dull responses from McConnell."
On Saturday, both sides were loath to discuss how much preparation their candidates put in but eager to talk trash about how their opponent will do.
Josh Holmes, McConnell's senior adviser, said that "for Sen. McConnell, Monday's debate is not a performance but rather an opportunity to step outside the media filter for an in-depth discussion of the issues that are important for Kentuckians."
"If Alison Lundergan Grimes can set aside the political clichés, canned one-liners and evasive non-answers long enough to defend her views, it should be a good exchange that will highlight their huge differences," Holmes said. "This Senate race will quite literally determine whether a Kentuckian leads a new U.S. Senate or whether we continue pursuing the Obama agenda with a freshman senator, so Senator McConnell is eager to discuss exactly what that difference means for the commonwealth."
Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst said in an email that the Democrat "is looking forward to the opportunity to hold Mitch McConnell accountable for his record."
"At Monday's debate, you will see two very different philosophies: Alison, who stands up for working families, and Mitch McConnell, who stands up for millionaires, billionaires and Washington insiders," Hurst said. "The debate will further prove why Alison will win this race. She has a strong command of the issues, she's passionate about helping people, and she cares about Kentucky."