Joe Biden’s task was to attack. Sarah Palin’s was to attack, connect and stick to her folksy script.
While both vice presidential candidates succeeded in their only debate of the campaign Thursday night, the stakes were much higher and the bar was much lower for Palin. So, in the contest of low expectations, Palin won.
If nothing else, the first-term Alaska governor got past the raft of nonsensical and meandering answers in evening news interviews with Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson, the spoofs by Saturday Night Live and the mockery of late-night comics.
From her first words, a confident Palin sought to connect with voters whose confidence in her qualifications has waned. She sprinkled down-home phrases throughout her answers — “bless their hearts” and “darn right.” Americans weren’t just people they were “Joe Six-Pack” and “Hockey Moms.” And who needs polls, she suggested, when there are youth soccer games with parents on the sidelines.
“I’ll betcha you’re going to hear some fear in that parent’s voice,” Palin said.
She defended Republican presidential nominee John McCain from Biden’s litany of criticisms, and took Biden to task over both his record and that of Democratic nominee Barack Obama.
And yet, it wasn’t a perfect performance.
A shaky performance at times
Palin was shaky at times on less familiar issues. Not even halfway through the debate, Palin was asked a question about sub-prime mortgages but maneuvered back to the issue of energy where she was clearly more comfortable — and where she had her lines down. It appeared to be a non-sequitur.
“I want to talk about again my record on energy versus your ticket’s energy ticket also,” she said. “I think that this is important to come back to with that energy policy plan again that was voted in ’05. When we talk about energy, we have to consider the need to do all that we can to allow this nation to become energy independent.”
She twice referred to the commanding U.S. general in Afghanistan as “General McClellan.”
In fact, his name is Gen. David McKiernan and, as Biden said, he called this week for the U.S. and its allies to rush more troops “as quickly as possible” to Afghanistan and warn that the fighting there could worsen before it gets better.
She was adept at not answering questions and stuck to breezy sound bites, frequently looking to her notes. She criticized Biden and Obama with a smile and her Alaska accent.
Biden on the attack from the start
Palin’s head bobbed up and down from notes on her podium to Biden as she resurrected — and listed — his disagreements with Obama on the Iraq war.
Biden was critical from the start, accusing President Bush of overseeing “the worst economic policies we’ve ever had.” Often tagged as undisciplined, Biden stuck to the Democratic script.
The Delaware senator criticized McCain over his conflicting economic statements. “That doesn’t make John McCain a bad guy, but it does point out he’s out of touch,” Biden said.
He also accused Palin of distorting Obama’s record, and said: “Let’s get straight who’s been right and wrong” on Iraq.
“John McCain has been dead wrong,” Biden said before trying his hand at folksiness. “As my mother would say, I love him but he’s been dead wrong.”