Sarah "Joe Six Pack" Palin gets ready to rumble

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Could the vice-presidential debate actually be consequential this time around? You bet. No offense to any of the vice-presidential wannabees, but a Biden - Romney showdown or a Biden - Pawlenty (remember him?) contest or a Biden - Portman (who?) debate would not likely be must-see TV.

We've got Joe Biden and Sarah Palin to look forward to. And make no mistake, this thing is being billed as the Thrilla' in Manila, but could end up as disastrous for either or both as Milli Vanilli.

The gaffe-meisters

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After all, we've got one candidate who is synonymous with gaffe-prone. Go ahead and Google "gaffe prone." Top result? Joe Biden. Google "Joe Biden." Top related search? Joe Biden gaffes.

In the other corner, we've got Sarah Palin. And in the short time the country has come to know this moose-hunting, hockey mom from Alaska, she's gone from hero to zero, from chic to geek, from rising star to falling star in just one month.

When you consider that the rise and fall of Sarah Palin has occurred in just one month, you see the impact of this incredibly short news cycle. With all the news reports, analyses, talk radio, TV punditry, late-night jokes, skits, You-Tube remixes -- it feels like we've known Sarah for months if not years.

Palin-hysteria

Even with all the recent hullabaloo stirred up by conservatives freaked over Palin's recent television interviews, she projected a stronger image -- even a flash of feistiness -- Monday night with Katie Couric.

The performance didn't satisfy her harsher critics who pointed out that Republican nominee John McCain had to join her to protect the governor from more 'gotcha journalism.'

Joe Six-Pack

But on a conservative radio talk show program on Tuesday Sarah Palin sounded a bit more like the Sarah Palin the public got to know at the Republican convention.

“Oh, I think they’re [critics] just not used to someone coming in from the outside saying you know what? It’s time that a normal Joe Six-Pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency, and I think that that’s kind of taken some people off guard, and they’re out of sorts, and they’re ticked off about it,” she said.

Palin's 401(k) nosedives

Palin went on to discuss the turbulent financial weather in terms of how it's affecting her family.

"I know what Americans are going through," Palin told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. “And you know, even today, Todd and I are looking at what’s going on in the stock market, the relatively low number of investments that we have, looking at the hit that we’re taking, probably $20,000 dollars last week in his 401K plan that was hit.

"I’m thinking, ‘Geez, the rest of America, they’re facing the exact same thing that we are. We understand what the problems are.’”

Gotcha

What about the charges of gotcha' journalism?  Many believe the Gibson and Couric interviews have been fair.  While others believe that some of the questions were designed to embarrass Palin.

"Well, I have a degree in journalism also, so it surprises me that so much has changed since I received my education in journalistic ethics all those years ago," Palin explained.  "But I’m not going to pick a fight with those who buy ink by the barrelful. I’m going to take those shots and those pop quizzes and just say that’s okay, those are good testing grounds. And they can continue on in that mode. That’s good. That makes somebody work even harder. It makes somebody be even clearer and more articulate in their positions. So really I don’t fight it. I invite it."

Be yourself

If she's able to project that image -- a confident, mainstream American who doesn't fudge or nervously piece together talking points like a stir-crazy parrot, she might be able to pull it off on Thursday night.

And unlike McCain's suspend-the-campaign move last week, there's really little the campaign can do to change the conversation. It's all debate, Republican strategist Trent Duffy told The Vote.

"Nothing (besides catching Osama bin Laden) will change the subject besides the debate, and that may not change it enough," Duffy said. "The Couric interview series has the Democrats chomping at the bit for a knockout, but they’ve got to be careful not to pile on."

"Biden might even wear pastels," Duffy joked.

Biden on a tightrope

Democratic operative Chris Lehane agrees with Duffy. Biden's got to be careful. Lehane told The Vote Tuesday that Biden can all but ignore (respectfully) Palin.

"Biden's challenge is not to prove he is smarter, better positioned to serve, or more experienced than Palin," he said. "As that risks looking patronizing or sending the exact wrong message to working class voters who get turned off by Democrats who appear to be looking down their nose at working families."

Instead, says Lehane, Biden's got to connect with those same average Joe's.

"Biden's focus needs to be on not really worrying about Palin -- but looking through the tube and into the living rooms of undecided voters and making clear that it is the Obama-Biden ticket that they should trust when it comes to making economic issues about them and their families."

It's all about the average Joes on Thursday night.

The microscope

Up next? Why does it appear that Joe Biden gets away with it when he makes a mistake but Palin is under so much scrutiny? We'll talk about that later today.

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