Political chameleon from Waukegan helps candidates test debating skills

His acting chops range from formidable conservative Dick Cheney to feisty liberal Bernie Sanders.

But Waukegan native Robert Barnett's actual role is a lawyer who trades the courtroom for the campaign trail practically every election cycle.

Earlier this year, the political chameleon was a stand-in for Vermont Sen. Sanders to prep Clinton for the primary debates and recently he assisted her running mate Sen. Tim Kaine by portraying Republican Gov. Mike Pence before their Tuesday matchup.

In 2000 and 2004, Barnett played Vice President Cheney in debate practices for vice presidential hopefuls Joe Lieberman and Sen. John Edwards, respectively.

The influential Washington, D.C., attorney's cast of characters also includes President George H.W. Bush, whom he impersonated for VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and presidential nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988.

A 1964 graduate of Waukegan Township High School, Barnett received his law degree from the University of Chicago.

At the Washington firm Williams & Connelly, he practices corporate law and negotiates contracts for individuals ranging from Barbra Streisand to Queen Noor of Jordan and Barack Obama.

He's also acted as an adviser to numerous political campaigns, including Clinton's first run for Senate in 2000. Despite his Democratic Party ties, Barnett also represented Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, in book deals.

But while he's vocal in mock debates, Barnett said his role prevented him from divulging any details, other than a "hail, Waukegan!"

Barnett hasn't forgotten his hometown, visiting in 2014 as the featured speaker at a benefit for the Waukegan Public Library.

"For me, the Waukegan Public Library meant story hour on Saturday mornings at the Carnegie Building on Sheridan, getting a library card and having access to books, the Bookmobile at the shopping plaza on Lewis Avenue in summer, and, most of all, the wonder, adventure, delight, and inspiration found in books," Barnett said in 2014.

Small things loom large in presidential debates, insiders say

How to watch Clinton, Trump debate

The presidential candidates will meet in the second of three debates Sunday at Washington University in St. Louis.

When: 8 to 9:30 p.m.

Watch: Broadcast or streaming on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, C-SPAN, cable news channels, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Moderators: Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC News

Format: Town hall style, with undecided voters asking half the questions.

Future debate: Oct. 19 in Las Vegas

More: Commission on Presidential Debates,

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