Election 2008

Tom Gannam/AP

VP Candidates Face Off

October 03, 2008 12:30 AM
by Christopher Coats
Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP vice presidential candidate, and her counterpart on the Democrat's ticket, Gov. Joseph R. Biden Jr., debated Thursday night at Washington University in St. Louis.

Reaction Mixed After Palin and Biden Meeting

The two vice presidential candidates squared off in the only vice presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis on Thursday night.

While early reviews were mixed, most pundits and news outlets that live-blogged the event reported solid, if not dramatic performances from both candidates. 

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.

Background: Spinning downward

The pre-debate spinning began long before either candidate took their place behind the podium in St. Louis, with both campaigns furiously trying to raise expectations about their opponent with a mix of compliments and criticism for their own.

“The expectations aren’t just low; they’re in the Death Valley range. I’m not sure I remember such a vigorous race to the bottom,” wrote Newsweek’s Howard Fineman shortly before leaving for St. Louis. “I already feel like I’m in the spin room.”

Both candidates have lauded each other with compliments about their style and earlier debate performances, each stating that the other would be an incredible opponent.

In a conference call Thursday morning, Obama adviser David Plouffe stated that “Governor Palin is one of the best debaters in American politics,” according to the Chicago Tribune’s Swamp Blog.

For her part, Palin praised Biden’s debate skills and experience, stating it was likely that he would win the night.

Meanwhile, some of Palin’s biggest supporters said her missteps of the last week were more a product of the McCain campaign’s efforts to let her be herself.

In the New York Times, Bill Kristal took up the slogan “Free Sarah,” advising McCain to “liberate Palin to go on the offensive as a combative conservative”.

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.

While historical, the Palin-Biden matchup is not the first time a female vice presidential candidate has squared off against a male opponent in pursuit of the vice presidency. The only difference now is that the parties are reversed. In 1984, George H.W. Bush met with New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro in a Philadelphia debate that was at times tense and confrontational. However, both candidates recently appeared on NBC’s “Today” to offer advice for both Biden and Palin and to offer assurance that they were and have always been friends.

Background: Video Coverage

MSNBC’S Dashboard provides video samples and live reports from throughout the vice presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sara Palin.

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