So the handicapping has begun. We’re not talking about Saturday’s vote in Washington and Michigan. (That’s so yesterday.) No, we’re referring to how the odds’-makers are already assessing President Bush’s hour-long interview with Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz reports that a White House official told him the decision by Bush to submit to what Kurtz calls an “an hour-long interrogation” by Russert was an effort to deflect “a barrage” of Democratic criticism about Iraq. How the sometimes-testy President performs in the interview (which USA Today states will be unrestricted and unedited) will be a “roll of the dice,” according to Kurtz.

The Financial Times offers an other-side-of-the-Atlantic twist to its story about the interview. Reporter James Harding describes Russert as “an interviewer who by America’s standards of deferential on-air treatment of politicians is known for his combative style, awkward questions and persistent follow-ups.”

Harding also provides a nice little bit of history, noting that the president has never granted an interview to The New York Times, but has done a one-on-one with the Sun, the British tab.

The White House is counting on Bush’s higher media profile to boost his sagging poll numbers, according to USA Today. (Kerry outpolls Bush, according to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll last weekend.) “The effort to turn things around will continue Sunday,” write reporters Richard Benedetto and Judy Keen.

And what’s the bar the President has to hurdle to be judged a success? Tobe Berkovitz of Boston University’s communications school tells Kurtz: “Bush needs to show he is the commander-in-chief of substance, and you don’t do that with David Letterman or Jon Stewart to Jay Leno.”

—Susan Q. Stranahan

Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.