Rarely in the modern era has a vice presidential debate been the subject of so much attention and hype. So while you are watching the debate tonight, here are 5 things to keep you eye on while Sarah Palin and Joe Biden are mixing it up.
1). Joe Six Pack – If someone would have told me in July that Joe Biden and Sarah Palin would be the two VP candidates debating in November, I would not have believed you. Back then, Biden was saying that he didn’t want the job, and nobody outside of Alaska knew who Palin was. My point is that these two are not the typical running mate., and interestingly, there has been a battle between the two campaigns to see who is more the every man/woman.
Usually this argument would go to the outsider Palin, but Biden if far from the typical U.S. Senator. He isn’t rich or insulated, and has a compelling biography. More importantly, Biden has been able to speak to language of working class voters. These are the same voters that the McCain campaign was hoping that Palin would attract. I suspect that the battle over who is more Joe Six Pack will continue tonight.
2). Change vs. Change- It is a given that the change versus experience discussion will come up tonight, but not in the way you might expect. In her recent interview with Katie Couric, Sarah Palin brought up Biden’s experience and said that she is the fresh faced change in this campaign. It appears that the McCain camp wants to have both the change and experience messages.
The only problem with this strategy is that Joe Biden can, and will bring up, John McCain. Biden will also talk about real change, and point out how Palin agrees with George W. Bush on the issues. I have a hunch that no one will vigorously defend experience here, and both sides will be arguing for their version of change. This an argument that that the Obama-Biden campaign is built to win, but expect Palin to try to make the argument for the Republican version of change anyway.
3). Those Pesky Issues – I don’t know if Troopergate will come up tonight, but I am certain that the candidates will be talking about the economy and the financial crisis. Sarah Palin is going to have to answer questions about these issues. Since she has been so weak on the issues, the McCain campaign’s strategy might be for her to stick to the talking points, and then turn every question into an attack on the Democrats. The problem with this approach is that people want answers, especially on the economy.
On the other side, Joe Biden is at home talking about the issues. Many experts believed that Biden was selected for his foreign policy expertise, but he has a long history of dealing with economic issues, which has served him well on the campaign trail. We all know that Joe Biden can handle the issues, but Sarah Palin has to show America that she is more than a campaign gimmick. She needs to be able to answer questions without sounding like she is repeating talking points. It would also help her if her answers actually made sense.
4). Ready for the Job – Vice presidential debates don’t change the momentum of presidential elections because voters view them as sort of a separate job interview. While watching the debate tonight, many people will evaluating the candidates based on the question, if something happens to the president, do I feel comfortable with either of these candidates leading the country? In polling, Biden has consistently beat Palin on readiness to be president. Palin absolutely must convince voters that she is ready to step in if something would happen to John McCain.
Just as Barack Obama won the first presidential debate by looking ready for the job, and more presidential than John McCain, Joe Biden can win this debate by looking like a potential president, and reassuring people that the nation would be in good hands if something were to happen to Obama. Biden has a huge advantage here which is why no one should be surprised if his debate strategy is not to attack to attack Palin personally, but to talk about the issues, and look White House ready.
5). Train Wreck TV – Let’s face it, interest in this debate is so high because people want to see if Joe Biden is going to make the big gaffe, or if Sarah Palin is going to crash and burn. During her month on the campaign trail, Sarah Palin has been her own worst enemy, while Joe Biden has shown a great deal of discipline, and demonstrated his ability to stay on message, and avoid long rambling off the cuff answers. Palin might try to bait Biden into a gaffe, whereas Biden just needs to sit back and wait for Palin to make a mistake.
There is one big reason why I think Sarah Palin could implode tonight. She has never has never been on the national stage before without a speech and teleprompter. He debate experience consists one debate in Alaska while running for governor, where as Biden has been in dozens of national Democratic primary debates over his career. The odds of Biden making a serious gaffe are pretty slim, but Palin has never done this before, and to add to the pressure, she is only gets one shot at this. There isn’t a second or third vice presidential debate.
The pressure on Palin is enormous. Her favorability ratings have plummeted. The McCain campaign is sinking fast, and she was selected to be the bold move that carried John McCain to victory in November. If Palin does anything that is perceived as a gaffe, or doesn’t look to be up to the job, she could seal not only John McCain’s fate, but also destroy her future as a national candidate. Her team is behind, so Palin needs to not only stay even with Biden, but to win the debate. All eyes will be on her to see if she can measure up.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association