VP Debate Summary

3 10 2008

Gov. Sarah Palin made it through the vice-presidential debate on Thursday without doing any obvious damage to the Republican presidential ticket. By surviving her encounter with Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. and quelling some of the talk about her basic qualifications for high office, she may even have done Senator John McCain a bit of good, freeing him to focus on the other troubles shadowing his campaign.

It was not a tipping point for the embattled Republican presidential ticket, the bad night that many Republicans had feared. But neither did it constitute the turning point the McCain campaign was looking for after a stretch of several weeks in which Senator Barack Obama seemed to be gaining the upper hand in the race. Even if he no longer has to be on the defensive about Ms. Palin, Mr. McCain still faces a tough environment with barely a month until the election, as he acknowledged hours before the debate by effectively pulling his campaign out of Michigan, a Democratic state where Mr. McCain’s advisers had once been optimistic of victory.

Short of a complete bravura performance that would have been tough for even the most experienced national politician to turn in — or a devastating error by the mistake-prone Mr. Biden, who instead turned in an impressively sharp performance — there might have been little Ms. Palin could have done to help Mr. McCain.

The economic problems on Wall Street have posed a severe problem for Mr. McCain, moving the presidential debate to precisely the ground that favors Democrats, and Mr. Biden sought repeatedly during the debate to lay the problem at the doorstep of the Republican Party. And even if a financial rescue plan is approved by Congress, there is no reason to think that the bad economic news is going to stop: with reports of bleak unemployment numbers, more gyrations of the stock market, and the prospect of bad economic reports on everything from job losses to automobile sales.

“For more than a year, people assumed that if Obama was the Democratic nominee, the campaign would be a referendum on him,” Mr. Harris said. “The economic crisis changed that: the campaign is now a referendum on who can get us out of this mess. One of the challenges for the McCain campaign is going to be turn the race back into an up-or-down referendum on Obama.”

And through this period — easily the worst one Mr. McCain has faced since he was forced to lay off most of his campaign staff more than a year ago when he ran out of money — Mr. McCain has appeared off balance. He has been searching for a message and a way to make a case against Mr. Obama, and often publicly venting his frustration at the way the campaign is going, as he did this week in a contentious meeting with the editorial board of The Des Moines Register.

Ms. Palin can presumably claim two victories, though modest ones. She did not offer a reprise of the unsteady responses that marked her interviews with Katie Couric on CBS News, even if many of her answers were not always responsive to the question, particularly when contrasted with Mr. Biden. Her performance — feisty and spirited — also might have heartened conservatives, many of whom had gone from ecstasy to despair in the period from when she was named until this week.

To quote the New York Times, “She succeeded by not failing in any obvious way.”- (About Palin)


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