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Filler: First presidental debate is the moment we've been waiting for

Finally, it's time for the next "moment we've all been waiting for" in the presidential election. The first presidential debate of the general election will begin at 9 p.m. EST.

This contest seems to have been going on since, practically, the dawn of time. It began the day after the 2008 election, for President Barack Obama. For Mitt Romney, it began even before that, by a few months -- on the day he conceded the 2008 Republican nomination to John McCain.

And truthfully, except for the most depraved political junkies, even a contest for leadership of the free world can't hold our interest for 48 straight months unless it's decided via physical violence, or through dance and song competitions a la "Toddlers and Tiaras.".


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Sure, it was easy to keep paying attention when there was a Republican presidential debate seemingly every few hours and primaries twice a week.

Besides the contests, there were great characters early on: Uncle Ron, the friendly libertarian. Rick Santorum, the unfriendly but deeply sincere religious conservative who came in first among all Ricks seeking the nomination. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who sported an awesome cowboy squint and a fat bankroll but little else, and thus came in last among Ricks. There was Michele Bachmann, who may have only been there to make Santorum seem grounded and likable, and Herman Cain, the singing pizza magnate chased out by an extramarital date.

And Newt, good old Newt. Gingrich won primaries, by golly, with Callista gamely by his side and his personal peccadilloes safely in his past.

Don't forget Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty, too ... unless you want to. OK, let's forget them for now.

So it was pretty exciting early on, but then, as Romney made it clear he would not be denied the nomination, things got boring. Oh, sure, there were the conventions, but those have become the over-chaperoned school dances of politics. You get excited, and all dressed up, but when the night comes you realize nothing too sexy or titillating is going to be allowed to happen.

So, it begins anew tonight. Actual debates. One-on-one. Mano a mano a moderator. But the manos aren't supposed to directly engage each other. Kind of like at those school dances.

As much as everyone's hoping Obama will forget himself and quote Karl Marx, or Romney, dazed by the spotlights, will call for his butler to come block the overly harsh rays by holding up a giant sheaf of $1,000 bills, none of that will happen.

We will likely see a couple of little gaffes, and a few neatly made points worth commenting on. We likely will not find out exactly what Mitt Romney wants to do, or precisely how Barack Obama plans to accomplish the things he's been promising to do for four years.

What we may get is a bit better sense of the men themselves, their manner and mood. And watching them together, I think, will have value. They've been shadowboxing each other for years, calling each other out but never directly engaging, like fighters trying to build up interest in a championship bout.

Tonight they'll step in the ring. It's about time. A knockout would be exciting, but it's unlikely. Still, it promises to be a bout worth watching for a horde of political junkies who haven't had a good fix since the 20-debate "Round Robin Battle Royale For Republican Dominance" six months ago.

Tags: mitt romney , barack obama , debate , jim lehrer , denver , gaffes , issues

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