Tonight's to-do lists for Biden and Palin
Tonight's debate in St. Louis likely is the most anticipated vice-presidential debate ever (Gore-Kemp, anyone?). Sen. Joseph Biden, the Democratic...
Tonight's debate in St. Louis likely is the most anticipated vice-presidential debate ever (Gore-Kemp, anyone?). Sen. Joseph Biden, the Democratic nominee, with 35 years of experience in Congress, is matched against Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a newcomer on the national landscape.
Palin's recent interview with CBS' Katie Couric has sparked even greater interest in the debate, as viewers may be wondering which Palin will show up: the poised, confident politician who wowed the crowd at the Republican National Convention or the person who didn't seem to grasp the fundamentals of the bailout bill, talked about Russia invading Alaska and couldn't name any newspapers or magazines she reads.
It's going to be fun. Here's what each debater needs to do in order to claim victory:
FIVE THINGS BIDEN MUST DO
1. Attack John McCain, not Palin. Although Palin's poll numbers are down nationally, there remains a large and energized group of Palinites who seem to see every attack on her as a personal affront. Add to that the potentially huge number of undecided female voters and it becomes clear Biden must walk a fine line. He can't be viewed as beating up on her. And he should remember, in the end, Americans vote for the top of the ticket, not the bottom.
2. Don't lecture. Biden teaches constitutional law on the side and he'll have to resist the temptation to turn professorial if Palin struggles with details or policy positions. Remember ABC's Charlie Gibson peering down at Palin, his spectacles on his nose, quizzing her about the Bush doctrine? That played into Palin's blame-the-media stand.
3. Keep it short. Biden has a habit of using 12 words when a half-dozen will do. And he's prone to gaffes. Just recently he said Hillary Rodham Clinton might have made a better running mate for Barack Obama and that Franklin Roosevelt appeared on television after the 1929 stock-market crash. Giving tight answers will help alleviate that danger, as well as keeping him on message. Which is ...
4. It's not about you. As noted, Biden's been in politics for a lifetime, long enough to have hands-on experience with just about every issue. But this debate isn't about whether Biden is fit to be vice president. No one doubts that. It's about Biden making the case that Obama is ready to be president, an issue that still weighs on the minds of some undecided voters.
5. And Joe, please don't smile. Biden has a wide-angle grin that could light up a coal mine, and it's one that's ready-made for every occasion. Except this one. If Palin, as expected, goes on the attack, Biden has to be viewed as taking those attacks — and her — seriously. A smile (and Biden likes to be friends with everyone) will suggest to some he's being patronizing.
FIVE THINGS PALIN MUST DO
1. Attack Obama through Biden. The McCain campaign already has highlighted several ways in which Biden, during the presidential campaign, criticized Obama. One obvious area is the Iraq war. Biden supported the war and voted to fund it at every instance; Obama never has supported the war and joined other members of Congress in seeking policy leverage through funding bills. This could keep Biden on the defensive and force him to explain himself, not talk about Obama.
2. Keep it short. Anyone who watched Palin's performance last week on the "CBS Evening News" or Tina Fey on "Saturday Night Live" (and has anyone not by now?) knows what can happen when the governor talks extemporaneously. She seems to wander into a verbal corn maze she can't find her way out of. So Palin's answers need to be short, succinct and crystal-clear.
Why ... ?
3. Because it's all about her. Unlike Biden, this debate is part of a continuing national referendum on Palin's fitness for the GOP ticket. The truth is, Biden will be an afterthought regardless of what he does, short of setting his podium on fire. All eyes will be on Palin. Her answers will be dissected, analyzed, debated. She can't afford too many mistakes.
In that vein ...
4. No more talking about seeing Russia from Alaska. It's just not working — and it's so ridiculous that CNN actually sent a reporter to Little Diomede Island in the state to prove that Palin herself has never seen the country. No more hockey moms and lipstick and carpools. Small-scale Sarah has to go. She needs to fit the stage she's on, sustain a national presence, something that makes her appear more than a product of hype.
5. Be likable, but not perky. Palin is expected to unleash many of the same attacks on Obama as she did at the Republican National Convention. The danger is that Palin sometimes can come off as mean-spirited. She has to make sure voters like her, not simply dislike Obama. She also must avoid the sort of gee-whiz verbal tics that make it easy for her critics to suggest she's a lightweight.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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