What to look for while watching the presidential debate

All eyes will be on Denver, Colorado Wednesday night, for the first of three nationally-televised presidential debates.

The economy and domestic issues will dominate the face-off between Pres. Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

What will you watch for in the debate? It's probably different than what the political pundits will see.

Many viewers may be hoping for some of those sharp zingers that often dominate post-debate media coverage. Ronald Reagan to Jimmy Carter in 1980, "There you go again." Lloyd Bentsen telling Dan Quayle, "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

Coastal Carolina University communications professor Stephen Daniel says those one-liners are fun to watch, but you shouldn't pay much attention to them.

"They're just nice media publicity in some cases, to increase ratings, for something to talk about on the next shows on Fox News or CNN from then on out," Daniel said.

The same goes for non-verbal cues, like George H.W. Bush checking his watch in a 1992 debate or Al Gore sighing in 2000.

Daniel says maybe a candidate's non-verbals convey confidence, or maybe they mean something else entirely, so you shouldn't focus exclusively on them.

Because of those kinds of factors, Daniel says today's presidential debates don't seem much like debates at all.

"It's not a sharing of ideas anymore, it's about who is the victor in this case, and I almost think we shouldn't be focused on that, we should be focused on what they're saying, not who the person is."

Daniel says politicians are better than most at twisting a difficult question around to fit their agenda, but he says many of us respond that way if we're nervous or faced with an unexpected question.

So if those are the things we shouldn't look for, what should we pay attention to?

Daniel suggests listening closely and focusing on the candidates' underlying message.

"Focusing on whether or not they take stabs at other people. Do they stay on track, do they pander, how do they answer the question? That's the focus, that's what the debate is for."

Daniel says many people will pay close attention to what media outlets say about the debate afterward or, among younger voters, what their Facebook friends say about it.

He advises debate watchers to make up their own minds and avoid viewing it through someone else's eyes.

You can see the debate on NewsChannel 15 at 9 p.m. Wednesday or live-streamed at