"There you go again . . . "
And here WE go again. The primaries are done, the conventions are over. Now to the debates, when the candidates for president and vice president come face-to-face, and millions upon millions will be watching.
If the past is a predictor, there will be unforgettable moments, such as Lloyd Bentsen telling Dan Quayle, "You are no Jack Kennedy."
Those of us who've made reporting on politics our life's work learned a long time ago, the debates are about more than what the candidates say.
"Most of the polls - as they are in this case - show that there are very few undecided voters. But there's still a huge number of people who watch the debates," said PBS' Jim Lehrer. "And the reason they do that is to take the measure of the individual."
Lehrer is the dean of debate moderators - he's been at it for 24 years - and he has put more questions to more candidates than any of us.
"I've always thought that the vote for the presidency was different than any other vote we cast," said Bob Schieffer. "The presidency, it seems to me, comes down to, 'Who do we feel most comfortable with in time of crisis?'"
"That's exactly right," said Lehrer. "Bob Gates, the former Defense Secretary, said, 'Temperament. There's such a thing as presidential temperament. You can smell it. You can feel it. It's there. And some people have it, and some people don't.'"
Considering the importance we place on debates, it's hard to believe they're fairly new to American politics. They began just 52 years ago, with Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy's televised encounter on September 26, 1960.
"Some people who listened to it on the radio thought that Nixon won," said Schieffer. "But it was generally conceded that people who watched it on television were pretty convinced that Jack Kennedy won."
"Absolutely," said Lehrer. "What you say is important, but what you look like can be also as important. In Nixon's case, he perspired. He had the audacity to perspire during the presidential debate!"
Lehrer said that, as a consequence, candidates now negotiate how cold the debate venue will be. "It's like a meat locker, and that's the reason . . . nobody wants to perspire because of what happened to Nixon'!" he laughed.
Even a great communicator like Franklin Roosevelt knew the risk of debating. He was a heavy favorite to win reelection in 1940, so when Republican Wendel Wilkie demanded a debate, FDR ignored it. He knew that just appearing on the same stage with the president enhanced the stature of any challenger.
It's hard to know where we'd be today if Nixon had followed Roosevelt's lead in 1960, but once burned, Nixon never debated again - nor did Lyndon Johnson, who had preceded him to the White House. So there were no debates in 1964, 1968 or 1972.
Only after his poll numbers dropped did Gerald Ford agree to debate challenger Jimmy Carter in 1976.
"I asked Ford, 'Well, why did you agree to the debate?'" said Lehrer. "He said, 'It was my only hope.' He was down and out because of having pardoned Nixon. That's why he was so far down. And he said, 'I needed to do something. And if I could get Jimmy Carter to debate me, I might have a chance.'"
Yet, Ford ended up hurting his chances with this statement: "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration."
It was a serious gaffe in the Cold War era when the Soviet Iron Curtain extended across Europe.
But it made for compelling TV: Each of the Ford-Carter debates drew in more than 60 million viewers.
The public had spoken, and politicians heard the call: Debates were here to stay.
"No candidate could ever get away without debating in a national form on television now," said Lehrer.
In our highly-partisan era, they're maybe the one thing that can get tens of millions from both parties to sit down and hear what the other side has to say.
And with just the candidates speaking for themselves, all the business of negative advertising and campaign spending that have dominated recent elections fades into the background.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a scholar on American elections with the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania , said debates "dampen down some of the effect of money and politics.
"When we institutionalized debates as a format, we're communicating to the world as well as to the country that we practice what we preach. We believe that there's value in the clash of competing ideas. We believe that the public should judge individuals based on what it is they say and how they argue and how they respond to each other, not simply on the way in which they advertise to us."
Even so, the reality is no candidate steps before the cameras without serious preparation - which is where Brett O'Donnell comes in.
"You know, most candidates look at political debates like 'Jeopardy,' said O'Donnell. "They tend to, you know, want to answer every question and get every question right, thinking that, you know, 'I'll take the economy for $500.' And it's more than that; it's a messaging opportunity."
O'Donnell made tiny Liberty University into a debating power house. Now he teaches politicians debate technique. He's helped George W. Bush and John McCain, and he coached Mitt Romney during the primaries.
"The object is to capture the imagination of both the audience and the press, to make sure your message gets covered," O'Donnell said. "And one way to do that is to have a clever line."
Time and again, Ronald Reagan proved that no one could deliver a one-liner better, like, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"
And with these words - "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience" - Reagan turned concern that he'd gotten old and dotty on its head. Challenger Walter Mondale said later, "When I heard that, I knew I had lost."
For all the prep, sometimes it's the little things that voters remember. When George H.W. Bush kept looking at his watch in 1992, it was clear he wanted to be somewhere else.
When asked what he would consider a successful debate, Lehrer replied, "That the things that mattered - not necessarily the things that are in the headlines the last 24 hours before the debate, [and] to hell with the candidates and to hell with the moderators and to hell with the handlers and to hell with the pundits - but the things that the voters care the most about have been discussed, and have been discussed in a way that they can now understand what the differences are. That's what these debates are really all about."
The first presidential debate will be aired on KTVA CBS 11 at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, October 3.