Palin rebounds in debate – but is it too late?
Her better-than-expected performance Thursday probably won’t do much for a weakened McCain campaign.
Could there be two Sarah Palins?Skip to next paragraph
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The Sarah Palin who showed up to debate Joseph Biden here in St. Louis Thursday night was articulate, charming, and well-prepared. The Sarah Palin who was interviewed just a few days ago by CBS anchor Katie Couric appeared ill-informed and out of her depth, caught off-guard by seemingly basic questions – such as what newspapers she reads.
Ms. Palin, the governor of Alaska and the Republican vice-presidential nominee, clearly went into Thursday's debate against the Democratic Senator Biden with a game plan, and she carried it off. Over and over, she pitched her message to the middle class in a folksy way, throwing in a few winks for good measure.
The way to judge the economy “is go to a kid's soccer game on Saturday and turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them, 'How are you feeling about the economy?' " Palin said in her opening remarks, her trademark “Fargo” accent in full timbre. “And I'll betcha, you're going to hear some fear in that parent's voice, fear regarding the few investments that some of us have in the stock market.”
But there’s bad news for Palin: Her better-than-expected performance probably won’t do much for a McCain campaign that is on the ropes. Just before the debate, news broke that Republican nominee John McCain was ending his effort to win Michigan – a key Midwestern battleground the campaign had long held in its sights.
At the very least, though, Palin’s confident performance should quiet critics who had found her interviews with Ms. Couric embarrassing. “I think she reassured some conservatives,” says Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin.
Palin didn’t really answer some of the questions posed to her, instead veering back at times to the comfortable terrain of energy policy, but she did it so smoothly it hardly seemed noticeable. And as
debate-watchers point out time and again, style matters at least as much as substance. More than once she echoed President Reagan, a sure path into the hearts of the party faithful.
In invoking American exceptionalism, she used the Reaganism, “that shining city on a hill.” And after one withering attack by Biden, who sought repeatedly to link McCain to what he calls eight years of failed policies under President Bush, she said: “Say it ain't so, Joe. There you go again pointing backwards again.” Reagan had memorialized the line “there you go again” in his 1980 debate with President Carter.
Biden came into the debate with his own foibles to overcome – a propensity to talk too much and commit gaffes – and he too succeeded. In fact, neither candidate made any serious gaffes or got off any zingers that will go down in history. Rather, like the presidential debate last Friday between Democratic nominee Barack Obama and McCain, if either side won, it was on points, not a knockout.