Looking Ahead to the Palin-Biden VP Debate

Posted: October 1, 2008 in 2008 Elections, Debates, Joe Biden, Sarah Palin
Tags: , , ,

There are roughly just over 24 hours to go until the vice presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin. The VP debate usually does not get as much attention as the ones involving the presidential candidates, but this year could be an exception. Also keep in mind that the most famous debate zinger in political history (“You’re no Jack Kennedy”) happened during the VP debate. Here’s a look at the two candidates:

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin has captured the attention of the political world, in large part due to a well-received convention speech and extremely limited access to the press. But her poll numbers and public image have taken a turn for the worse throughout the month of September, hitting what could be a low point after her interview with Katie Couric, which has gone viral on the Internet and led to a brutal Saturday Night Live parody. What makes the parody stand out is the fact that Tina Fey used Sarah Palin’s response almost verbatim from the interview.

As I said before, the only upside to that interview was that the bar has been lowered as much as humanly possible for Palin going into the debate. However, political journalists have been going over her past debate footage and the general consensus is that while she might not be as knowledgable or experienced as some of her opponents, she can hold her own and score a point.

If she can make an eloquent but forceful case against Barack Obama, and not make any major gaffes or repeat lines from the stump speech that have been factchecked repeatedly and proven inaccurate (i.e. her opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere), then her surrogates and the press will be able to say she held her own against Joe Biden for 90 minutes and declare her the winner.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden has two personal habits he must overcome if he wants to win the debate.

First: Senators are notoriously longwinded, and Biden is no exception. I remember when I was covering the Samuel Alito confirmation hearings for CNN that at one point Biden used his entire 25 minute round of Q and A to vent (what it was about I don’t remember) without asking Alito a single question.

But for all his ego and his love of hearing himself speak, Biden is a sharp man with decades of experience in the U.S. Senate with a profound understanding of many domestic and international issues. He was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, and is currently the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The trick for him I suspect, will be to keep his answers short and to the point within the parameters of the debate format. If he gives longwinded responses or goes off on too many tangents, he may lose the audience.

Brevity is the soul of wit, as the saying goes. Biden had what has so far been the most memorable zinger of the 2008 campaign cycle when he hit Rudy Giuliani during a Democratic debate: “There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11.” If he can keep it simple and to the point, without coming off as rude or condescending, it will be a good debate for him.

Second: Biden is notorious for being blunt in his manner and delivery, on the stump, during interviews, or debating in the Senate. This could be a problem for two reasons. First is his well-known propensity for making gaffes (like his recent claim of Franklin Roosevelt making a televised address after the Great Depression hit in 1929) or going off message (criticizing an Obama campaign ad attacking John McCain and then having to reverse himself later).

The second problem is he has a bit of a temper, which I’ve seen and heard firsthand. During the 2004 campaign, he was a top foreign policy surrogate for John Kerry, and during a campaign conference call I remember hearing his voice get progressively angrier and louder as his criticism of George W. Bush grew more intense. While covering contentious Senate hearings where Biden is involved, I’ve noticed he can show flashes of his intensity or temper from time to time. If he and his staffers can keep Angry Joe under control during the debate, he’ll be fine.

Some food for thought Thursday night: A pre-debate poll by Marist College shows that voters expect Biden to win the debate and be more informed, but they also expect to find Palin to be more likable. Their favorable/unfavorable ratings in the poll are roughly similar, but it’s necessary to point out that Palin’s have been on the way down for the past few weeks.

Finally, the New York Times wrote articles profiling Biden and Palin’s debate history and style. I highly recommend both of them.

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