Palin, by Comparison

 My assessment, as the clock strikes midnight–the bar was set about four inches off the ground for Sarah Palin.  She cleared it by a couple of feet.  But this debate– which had the potential for Biden gaffes and Palin “caribou in the headlights” moments which might have had a big impact on public opinion– probably changed few minds.

  It started real friendly– Palin asking “Can I call you Joe?”, and Biden agreeing (I was surprised their mikes were open for this exchange).  If you thought they’d stay on a first-name basis, though– forget it.  It was “Governor” and “Senator” , with one exception– Palin’s “say it ain’t so, Joe” rebuke for Biden’s criticisms of Bush administration policy.  It was memorable, but it felt like something she’d been waiting all night to say.

  While they wouldn’t address each other by first names, they were doing lots of informal shout-outs to the folks back home… Katie’s Diner in Wilmington, Mrs. What’s-her-Name’s third-graders, getting extra-credit for watching the debate (thank goodness for the time difference!).  Much more than Obama or Mccain, the VP prospects were anxious to let us know they knew lots of real people, and therefore were jes’ folks who could feel our pain.

  They did use first names when talking about the other side’s Presidential nominee. “When you talk about Barack’s plan…” Palin began, discussing tax plans.  Biden provided several variations on the “I love John, but…”  theme– but he’s out of touch, but he’s no maverick.

  Lots of pundits gave Biden the edge, but Palin’s improvement over her yammering, stammering responses to Katie Couric’s questions were what struck me, and University of Miami debate director, Prof. David Steinberg– who’d joined us in the studio for post-debate reaction– the most.   She looked more confident and, while she occasionally talked in circles, she rarely groped for answer the way she had with Couric (I still don’t know how you can be stumped by the question “What newswpapers and magazines do you read?)

  Two thoughts occurred to me– Randy Scheunemann, the McCain aide who helped Palin prep back at the ranch in Sedona, may deserve a raise.  Or perhaps someone should check the coffee CBS served Sarah Palin as she talked to Katie. 

  Despite her improved performance, focus groups at CNN & CBS gave Biden the edge, and she got no slack from the late-night comedians.  Dave & Jay pre-tape their shows, so the punch lines that followed late newscasts were just as brutal as ever (Jay pointing out how odd it was that a journalism major couldn’t recall which newspapers she read. Dave, contending that, though Palin couldn’t name Supreme Court rulings she disagreed with, she “objected to several Paula Abdul rulings on American Idol”).  I wonder if this debate can rehab her image, or whether she’s been fully Quayled (keep in mind, though, that Quayle was mocked as in-over-his-head but still elected VP in ’88).

   #1 on Letterman’s Top 10 list of “Surprises at the Vice-Presidential Debate”:  “Palin mentioned bombing Iran, Pakistan, and Tina Fey.”

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One Response

  1. Dear Nick,

    You did a great job under difficult circumstances today, Oct. 8, 20008 at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Congressional Candidate Forum. You kept asking the questions until you did or did not get the answers. Your determination to get the answers was in the finest traditions of journalism. You went above and beyond. Congratulations on a tough assignment!

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