Election 2008

Tom Gannam/AP

Assessing the Biden-Palin Debate

October 03, 2008 12:51 PM
by Christopher Coats

Viewers and pundits are weighing in on the vice presidential debate between Alaska GOP Gov. Sarah Palin and Democratic contender Del. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The Candidates' Performances


U.S. News & World Report said that most polls and focus groups declared Sen. Joseph Biden the "clear winner" in the vice presidential debate with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Thursday night.

Palin entered the debate as the central focus, amid uncertainty over how she would perform. According to the Chicago Tribune, Gov. Palin did well at reinforcing her reputation as a "charismatic, composed performer." Debate watchers noted, however, that Palin often avoided questions by steering her answers toward issues on which she felt more comfortable, such as energy policy. "She resuscitated herself, but I'm not sure she did quite enough to do anything for John McCain," University of San Francisco political science professor James Taylor told the San Jose Mercury News. Gov. Palin's performance was described as "folksy."

Sen. Biden's task during the debate was to remain "disciplined." Taylor said, "Biden demonstrated he knows John McCain better than Sarah Palin does. She couldn't offer rebuttals during the depth of discussions. She read the Cliff Notes on McCain, and Biden has known John McCain." Newsweek wrote that "it was Palin's misfortune that the often too-garrulous Biden was at his best." He used his time to compare McCain to the Bush administration and explain how policies differ from those of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

"In the end, voters were able to see two distinct personalities, with two different styles," the San Jose Mercury News concluded.

Reaction Mixed After Palin and Biden Meeting

Conservatives were pleased with Palin's performance. Bloggers such as Michelle Malkin and several observers at National Review’s The Corner praised her performance, especially during the first half of the debate, which focused on domestic and economic issues.

Some conservative criticism arose during the latter half of the debate, relating to foreign policy, especially the U.S.-led efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan—sentiments echoed on more Biden-friendly sites, such as Talking Points Memo and Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish.

The candidates' discussion of Iraq took on an especially personal tone as both candidates have sons deployed or on their way to active duty in Iraq. Palin’s son Track left for Iraq earlier in September, while Biden’s son Beau is scheduled to leave today.

Related Topic: Sex determines debate behavior

Sen. Joe Biden reportedly spent much of his pre-debate preparation consulting female politicians about how best to make his points without coming across as sexist or like a bully. This approach appears to stem from earlier political debates where voters were turned off when overly aggressive behavior was perceived as chauvinistic and ultimately damaging to the male candidate. Eight years ago, the New York Senate race saw such an instance when candidate Rick Lazio left his podium and crossed the stage to confront Democrat Hillary Clinton about a campaign finance pledge. Lazio recently told Newsday that while he believed the substance of his argument was valid, his style and approach cost him in the eyes of many voters.

Reference: Video Coverage, Debate Transcript

RealClearPolitics offers a transcript of the vice presidential debate at its Web site, and CNN has provided video coverage.

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