Video: Watch entire Biden-Palin debate

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updated 10/8/2008 11:14:52 AM ET 2008-10-08T15:14:52
ANALYSIS

The Dow had just plunged below 10,000 for the first time in four years when Sarah Palin took the stage Monday in Florida. Flashing those vaunted marksman skills and dressed in virginal whites, she gleefully fired away at Barack Obama, who, she said, cavorts with terrorists. Well, at least one terrorist, a former one. And, well, they used to be friends, years ago. Sort of. But, you know. Still!

The Winker-Not-a-Blinker was just getting started. "For me, the heels are on, the gloves are off," Palin told cheering supporters. "I'm sending the message back to John McCain also: Tomorrow night in his debate, might as well take the gloves off."

Later Monday, as Wall Street continued its historic nosedive, Obama dove right into the mud. While his aides criticized McCain on one hand for trying to "turn the page" on the economic crisis, they let their other hand do a little page-turning of its own. With much fanfare and orchestrated suspense, the campaign's 13-minute video on the "Keating Five" accused McCain of having violated the public trust. At least Obama's salvo was related to a banking crisis, even if it took place two decades ago.

Well, that didn't take long. One week ago, I wrote that the increasingly dire economic crisis would give pause to any candidate tempted to launch even a marginally frivolous October surprise. I was relying, way back then, on math that seemed painfully simple: More than 80 percent of voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction. Two-thirds of voters want McCain and Obama to focus on the economy.

And yet, as Wall Street entered Week Four of white-faced panic, with Main Street trailing close behind, the Reforming Maverick Reformers launched a last-minute bid to pivot onto Obama's association with Bill Ayers, a man Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign introduced to voters this spring to limited effect. Which raises a key question: If McCain's camp cared so much about this red-alert flaw in Obama's character and judgment, why did it spend the summer talking about Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and lipstick on a pig?

Displaying uncharacteristic skittishness, Obama's troops took the bait. If you want to play "guilt by association," they said, game on. Next up: Some nugget from Tony Rezko, if Republicans have any luck. Some shocker from Troopergate, if Democrats get their wish.

And then there's the pesky issue of Jeremiah Wright -- more specifically, the debate within the McCain-Palin campaign (between McCain and Palin themselves, apparently) over whether to try to win the presidency by reviving the issue that almost cost Obama the Democratic nomination.

Video: Palin: Obama got started with help of terrorist Palin's ready to roll. The Governator 2.0, who has offered painfully long pauses when asked about everything from the Bush Doctrine to her favorite magazines, didn't blink when asked this week whether Wright is a legitimate issue in the campaign's final days. Her answer: You betcha.

"I don't know why that association isn't discussed more," she told Bill Kristol. "But, you know, I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up."

Palin's comments put her at odds with her boss, who protested in April when the North Carolina GOP ran an attack ad featuring Wright. "Unfortunately, all I can do is, in as visible a way as possible, disassociate myself from that kind of campaigning," McCain said at the time.

McCain stuck to his own strategy Tuesday night in Nashville, reciting a watered-down menu of attacks at "that one." Notably, "this one" steered clear of bringing up Ayers and Wright. Was it the town-hall format that boxed in McCain? Or does he just believe that launching questionable attacks on character (something he remembers all too well from his 2000 campaign) isn't a winning campaign strategy?

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Either way, Palin must have been annoyed. And you really don't want to annoy Palin. Just ask Obama. Or Katie Couric.

Meanwhile, the man Obama and McCain are running to succeed spoke about the economic downturn this week while traveling in Texas. "People say, 'Are you looking forward to coming home?'" President Bush said Monday in San Antonio. "Yes, I'm looking forward to living here. But in the meantime, it looks like I'm going to have a lot of work to do between today and when the new president takes office."

Well, at least someone takes his job seriously these days.


Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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