First debate for Cuccinelli, McAuliffe Saturday at The Homestead

If you’ve never come to the intersection of U.S. 220 and Sam Snead Highway in Bath County and turned onto the latter, you’ve never visited The Homestead, one of the nation’s more stately and majestic resorts where guests are expected to be on their best behavior. It wasn’t that long ago when gentlemen were required to wear ties after 5 p.m. when strolling through the grand hotel.

Such decorum at the Hot Springs landmark may well be missing 11 a.m. Saturday when Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D) square off in their first Virginia gubernatorial debate, this one sponsored by the American Bar Association.

Both campaigns have spent the past several months throwing electronic mud at each other from afar but this will be the first time the two candidates actually have had the chance to spar while separated only by a few feet.

PBS anchor Judy Woodruff will moderate the event (to be broadcast on PBS via live stream), and she wrote on her blog that her goal is pretty much straightforward:

“To draw them out, to have them expand as fully as possible on their ideas, and to give the voters of Virginia the best possible understanding of where they're coming from and what sort of governor each would be.”

But coming as it does in the middle of the summer and on a Saturday morning and available for viewing only on the Internet, will anyone be watching?

“These are two flawed candidates, and the challenge is to make sure the other side is seen as more flawed than you are,” University of Mary Washington political professor Stephen Farnsworth told the Free Lance-Star. “Traditionally the Homestead debate is a low-risk, low-visibility chance to test the campaign messages (and) test the opponent without a great deal at stake. What you say in September and October matters so much more than what you say in July.”