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Sideshow Overtakes Centre Ring: the Vice Presidential Debate

A lot of people tuned in to the debate last night, more than watched the first Obama-McCain face off, according to Nielsen ratings. Some of them had to be hoping for or expecting gaffes, which didn't quite materialize. By this token, both Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin are said to have outperformed expectations (and, in the process, disappointing Jon Stewart).

From the onset, Biden's strategy was to attack McCain instead of Palin, tie McCain to Bush, and explain in concrete terms how an Obama-Biden administration would be different. Palin's was to avoid specifics, dodge questions and rebuttals she didn't like, and keep after Barack Obama (and thus to put Biden on the defensive) while smiling and delivering as many folksy colloquialisms as possible. She made a point of saying that she would not necessarily respond to the moderator or her debate partner, because she wanted to talk directly to the American people.

Both made attempts to exhibit their 'mainstreet' cred, and while many commentators seem to think Palin won that battle, Biden had the more memorable and humanising moment. While pointing out his working class bona fides, and his ability to understand the struggles and doubts of the average American, he choked up about the accident which killed his wife and daughter, and almost killed his two sons.

Both candidates did what they set out to do without embarrassing themselves, so in that sense, they both 'won'. While only Democratic hacks placed this as a route for Biden, Palin was charged with such a paltry task, due to lowered expectations, few other than Republican hacks came away thinking she had won at all. Most polls I read about late last night showed a 15 to 20 point margin in favour of Biden. CNN has Biden winning 51% to Palin's 36%. CBS's snap poll showed undecideds giving Biden the nod 46% to 21%. The senator may not have offered any crushing blows, but the crowd definitely came away thinking him the victor. This, despite the governor coming off as more likeable, according to both polls. Apparently, people care less about who they'd rather have over to a barbeque or share a brew with when the economy's on the verge of collapse.

Does any of this matter? The conventional wisdom is, "No one votes for the vice president." But McCain seems to have altered the dynamic with his choice of running mate. Some, who might have stayed home, will likely vote for the Republican candidate now, others may not attend the polls or go to Obama, in part because of how ill prepared Palin has appeared. Obama's perceived troubles with white, working class voters and McCain's inability to address the problems of the economy to anyone's satisfaction have also placed more apparent import on each ticket's VP pick, as kinds of populist anchors. In this setting, both Palin's and Biden's performances mattered. Palin, for her part, has likely staunched the bleeding of support her ticket was suffering, and might even have attained a second chance in the public's eye. Biden offered contrast in every way imaginable, perhaps showing there is nothing the governor can do in the next thirty-odd days to truly be prepared.

People still aren't going to go out and vote for the Vice President come November fourth, but they'll likely shade their choices based on the running mates to a greater degree than in previous elections. How much remains to be seen.

Right now, Obama is kicking McCain's ass, so the senator from Arizona needed more from his pick than a gaffe free appearance. Barack's ahead in every 'battleground state' and national poll, except in Nevada (which, according to Real Clear Politics, is a virtual tie). McCain's proxies announced yesterday his campaign was pulling its operations out of Michigan, a state into which it has sunk a good deal of money--a state which McCain might still have been competitive in had he chosen to run alongside former Massechusetts governor and CEO, Mitt Romney, son of a Michigan governor. Meanwhile, Obama has used his monetary advantage to force McCain to place resources in supposedly solid Republican states. At this point, McCain can't hope to win with the kind of 'victory' they no doubt are presently claiming Palin had last night.


  1. I've finally found you tavis! This be Matt. I'm back in Seattle for good and wanna get in touch. E-mail me at PEACE



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