U.S. vice-presidential hopefuls Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden met Thursday for their only debate of the 2008 race. Who won the Palin-Biden debate? Did the candidates accomplish what their campaigns needed them to do?
Overall grades on the Palin-Biden debate itself
Sarah Palin B-minus
Joseph Biden B
I think it’s fair to say that Sarah Palin exceeded expectations by a long shot on Thursday. I wouldn’t say she aggressively attacked Joe Biden in the way that Politico reported she would, but she couched her early responses in emotional language that did a great job of reflecting the fears and frustrations that grip so many Americans now.
However, Palin seemed lost in parts of the latter half of the debate, which only strengthened my initial impressions about her. She did passably well on most of the policy questions — which, when combined with a strong performance in the first half of the debate, enabled her to come away with a B-minus. For someone who has had an awful two weeks in the media, including attacks from the right, this amounts to a very good grade.
Biden did well, too. His performance didn’t rate an “A,” but striving for that grade would have involved a significant risk of failure that just wouldn’t pencil out for a vice-presidential debate, particularly with Obama doing better than McCain in many polls.
Biden was brief — brief enough, anyway — and specific in his answers, and he treated Palin respectfully without appearing patronizing. He also scored some emotional points, showing that he can do as well in that regard as Palin can do on policy. However, sometimes he got too specific, and used jargon — not good for a TV audience of the general public. Overall, his grade reflects that he did the kind of job any experienced senator would do.
Grades on the success of the Palin-Biden debate in the broader context of the campaign
Sarah Palin B
Joseph Biden B-plus
Many people were expecting absurdity from Sarah Palin, but she didn’t give it to them. A really poor performance from the Republican vice-presidential nominee would have been a serious blow for John McCain, but Palin didn’t seem to do anything that would drive more voters away. On the other hand, she didn’t do any better than to allow the McCain campaign to hold its ground, and I don’t think she came across as someone who would make a credible president of the United States.
Joe Biden did a great job of hitting John McCain instead of Sarah Palin, particularly when he said that while McCain had been a maverick on some issues, they weren’t the “kitchen table” issues that touched the lives of most Americans. He also presented himself as a regular Joe done good — a guy whose son is going to Iraq and who knows just how lucky he is to have a good job and live in a nice house. But perhaps best for the Obama campaign, and in contrast to Palin, he showed that he could step in and be president of the United States if necessary.
As I did with the first McCain-Obama debate, I’ll turn to communications guru Bert Decker for a dissenting opinion. Decker believes Palin won the debate itself and helped the top of her ticket more than Biden did.
By the way, even though I disagree with parts of his analysis, Decker’s post on the debate is an example of what I consider a great blog entry. It comes from a source with expertise in the subject matter, it reads well, it provides unique opinion — and it’s brief enough to read quickly while providing enough information to make it worth passing on to other people.
CNN’s Approve-O-Meter looked better this time around. Trimming the graph to two lines (uncommitted male voters and uncommitted female voters) made it easier to read. It looked like they zoomed in closer to the zero line, too, which helped — though the unfortunate side effect was that the approval lines sometimes reached the limits of the graph, which meant that it was impossible to tell just how big the approval ratings were.