Friday, October 03, 2008

VP Debate--Does It Make a Difference?

Last night's debate in St. Louis between vice presidential candidates Senator Joe Biden of Delaware and Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska offered some mild surprises, but in the end will not much alter the political landscape of this historic election. Palin did extremely well, bringing to mind the dyanamic speaker who electrified the Republican convention and giving conservatives a vice presidential candidate of which they can be...well, at least not embarrassed. Likely this was largely due to her thorough preparation and the fact that neither moderator Gwen Ifill nor Biden skewered her. Palin did not ramble incoherently through the myriad talking points on which she has been obviously coached. She did not stare blankly into the camera while question after question rolled over like a truck as she did in her diasterous interview with Katie Couric. She did a great deal of sidestepping, dragging many questions back to her topic of comfort--energy. Of course, Ifill gently chastized both candidates early in the debate for neglecting to answer her question. Palin gave a credible performance with her characteristic folksy charm and managed not to do any further damage to herself or John McCain's campaign.
Joe Biden, on the other hand, gave an excellent performance himself. He did not bluster or blunder as he has been known to do, but his skillful answers to many of the questions demonstrated his superior knowledge on both foreign and domestic issues. Biden did not treat his opponent gently as he sought to highlight the differences between the two presidential candidates and link McCain to the "failed policies of the last eight years," but he did not flatten her as he might have. At one point during the exchange he pointed out bluntly that Palin had failed to answer a question, but he kept things friendly as Palin twinkled her way through the evening.
Palin did succeed in her debate where McCain failed--in demonstrating charm and likability while delivering her answers. If McCain, as he claims, is not Mr. Congeniality, then his vice presidential pick is the yang to his yin. Is it enough, however, to win over undecided and independent voters? Sarah Palin might do well to hope that her ticket loses in November. She could use the time to solidify her knowledge base and experience and add those assets to her considerable charsima. In time, she could be a formidable opponent to any Democratic candidate seeking office. However, she becomes vice president, she will have ample opportunity to demonstrate that she is in way over her head.

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