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.
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“I saw this as the mirror image of the previous debate,” says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. “Last week, I thought McCain won on substance, Obama on style. This time, I give it to Biden on substance, and Palin on style.”Skip to next paragraph
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Biden went easy on Palin, but pounded hard at McCain and the Bush administration on the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, healthcare, and nearly every issue that came up. Palin repeatedly called McCain a “maverick,” and by the end, Biden seemed fed up.
“He's been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives,” Biden said, going into a riff on the areas in which McCain “has not been a maverick,” healthcare, education, the budget, and the war. “He's not been a maverick on virtually anything that genuinely affects the things that people really talk about around their kitchen table.”
The proverbial kitchen table came up five times – not surprising, given the economic times – and Biden would not let himself be outdone by Palin, who seems less removed from her middle-class origins than does Biden.
Palin probably scored more points with her spirited cheerleading for the Republican ticket – and her self-image as a "Joe Six-Pack" hockey mom – than Biden did with his more senatorial demeanor. But by the end, Biden also brought the discussion close to home. He recalled how his father fell on hard times and had to move to find work. And he spoke with emotion about the death of his first wife and infant daughter, choking up as he recalled his injured son, not sure if he was going to survive.
Palin and Biden also went back and forth on taxes the whole evening. When moderator Gwen Ifill asked Palin to explain McCain’s healthcare plan, she talked taxes some more. Biden vehemently denied her claim of how Obama would raise taxes on families making as little as $42,000 – saying that by the same standard, McCain voted to raise taxes 477 times. But by keeping Biden on the defensive, Palin probably won on that turf.
In “spin alley,” where aides and surrogates from both campaigns held court with reporters after the debate, the back and forth continued. David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, conceded Palin’s likability but gave no ground on her positions.
“This was a folksy rendition of the same Bush policies,” he said, critiquing her performance.
Steve Schmidt, a senior McCain adviser, disagreed that Palin had ducked some foreign policy questions, listing the various countries and regions she had discussed. But when the talk turned to the campaign’s decision to pull out of Michigan, he rattled off states where both campaigns are competing: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado.
“It’s coming down in the final month to a small number of states like it always does,” Mr. Schmidt said.
What he didn’t say is that five out of six of those states were won by President Bush four years ago.