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Showdown in St. Louis: What to Watch For



Delaware Sen. Joe Biden and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin both know what they have to do in tonight's debate -- but it all will come down to execution.

Tonight's vice presidential debate between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden may well be the most anticipated throwdown since Wrestlemania III when Hulk Hogan body-slammed Andre the Giant.

Here at The Fix, we will be twittering the proceedings live and then offering our more expansive take (with apologies to Dan Balz) after the debate ends around 10:30 p.m. ET. We will also be doing some video analysis of what happened and why at the new -- and terrific -- Debate Decoder page, which offers you everything you need to know about the debate that was.

In the meantime, we jotted down a few thoughts about what to watch for in the 90-minute debate tonight between Biden and Palin. Have thoughts of your own about tonight's proceedings? The comments section awaits.

Palin Power? While there are significant expectations (and nervousness) from both sides about their candidates' performances tonight, there is clearly more at stake for Palin. It's hard to imagine a worse run-up to tonight's debate for Palin: her 624-part interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric was an unmitigated disaster and a series of state and national polls released over the past 24 hours have shown Barack Obama moving into a clear and significant lead. Can Palin change the campaign narrative? She's done it once already in this campaign. Remember that when she took the stage in St. Paul last month the storyline for several days had been whether she could even make it through the week as the veep nominee. After her speech, she became a political rockstar overnight. A debate with a politician as skilled as Biden is a very different animal than a speech off a TelePrompter, however, and Palin's performance with Couric has Republicans nervous and Democrats (privately) gleeful. That despair/celebration may be a bit premature judging from Palin's seemingly uncanny ability to step up when the moment warrants it -- as documented in an absolutely terrific piece by the Post's Sally Jenkins today. This is, without doubt, the biggest test for Palin in her whirlwind journey into the national political spotlight.

Tough Crowd. The audience -- not the few hundred people watching in person at Washington University but the millions catching the debate on television -- isn't favorably disposed to Palin, according to new polling by the Washington Post and ABC News. As Jon "The Numbers Man" Cohen and Jennifer "J-Bug" Agiesta wrote in a story about the numbers: "Though she initially transformed the race with her energizing presence and a fiery convention speech, Palin is now a much less positive force: Six in 10 voters see her as lacking the experience to be an effective president, and a third are now less likely to vote for [John] McCain because of her." Palin's drag on the ticket is particularly pronounced with independents -- the key voting bloc that both sides are trying to woo in the final 33 days of the election. Tonight's debate is her best -- and perhaps last -- chance to win back those wavering independent voters to her (and McCain's side) before Nov. 4.

Biden's Blunder. Republicans are openly rooting for Biden to make one of his well-known verbal gaffes tonight -- in hopes that an error by the Delaware senator will dominate the headlines and distract from Palin if she winds up underperforming. (Although, with the expectations bar set as low as it is for Palin, it's hard to imagine her underperforming unless she is unable to speak.) The McCain campaign has even released a minute-long web video in advance of tonight's debate that could well be titled "Joe Biden's Greatest Misses." (It's a good one; even if you are a Democrat you will probably chuckle at the video's refrain: Biden saying "What am I talking about?") Biden is acutely aware of his reputation for gaffes, however, and, if the Democratic primary debates are any indication, he will studiously avoid the long-winded, senatorial answers that tend to get him in trouble on the campaign trail.

The Post-Debate Spin. While many politicos roll their eyes about the impact of the "spin room" and the cable coverage immediately following the debates, those deeply involved in the past two presidential campaigns know better. Opinions of who won and lost are usually not formed during the debate -- unless you are a partisan in favor of one candidate or the other going into the proceedings -- and so what insta-polls say about who emerged victorious and the general tenor of the coverage in the immediate aftermath of the debate does tend to help make up minds. When the debate ends, flip through the cables to get a general sense of how the debate is being scored. Trust us. It matters.

It's Not About Me. It's a fact easy to lose sight of amid the wall to wall coverage of Palin and, to a lesser extent, Biden over the last few weeks but vice presidential picks don't usually decide elections. The most memorable vice presidential debate in memory -- the 1988 smackdown of Sen. Dan Quayle(R-Ind.) by Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) -- didn't ultimately change the result as George H.W. Bush went on to beat Michael Dukakis for the presidency. Both Biden and Palin need to remember that the key to tonight's debate is scoring hits on the other party's presidential nominee not bashing each other. Ultimately, Biden and Palin have to make the case for why Obama or McCain, respectively, are the best pick for those voters who remain undecided -- particularly in central battlegrounds like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 2, 2008; 6:20 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , Veepstakes  
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Next: Twittering the Showdown in St. Louis

Comments

OK, debate over, promise expired.

Music anyone?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ufa-q7DcWM

Posted by: officermancuso | October 2, 2008 10:33 PM | Report abuse

This is too foolish to stay up for. I'm going to bed. My grades for the Biden and Palin:

Biden: A-
Palin: Incomplete (please see registrar to re-enroll) Too many idiotic stunts, non-answers, and heckuvas.

Not even close. Why did they waste Joe's time with this?

Posted by: broadwayjoe | October 2, 2008 10:18 PM | Report abuse

FORGET ABOUT EXPECTATIONS.

Don't we as an audience, as citizens, as voters, have an obligation to not evaluate in light of low or high expectations but only in light of competency? Hold them both to the same high standard!

Posted by: Maezeppa | October 2, 2008 10:10 PM | Report abuse

DO YOU HEAR AMERICAN PEOPLE, PALIN SAY NUKELAR NOT NUCLEAR...


NETHERLANDS ANTILLES

Posted by: fu_buki | October 2, 2008 10:09 PM | Report abuse

I'll say it one more time - Palin sounds like the cheerleader running for student council.

Given that most US citizens attended high school, I can't believe I'm alone in this perception.

Now I'll quit repeating myself and be silent for the rest of this debate.

Posted by: officermancuso | October 2, 2008 9:20 PM | Report abuse

We have to stop those people who offer to lend to people who can't afford to pay; we must not try to hold those people accountable who took out those loans they couldn't afford.

Which party's candidate spewed this?

Republican.

Posted by: officermancuso | October 2, 2008 9:12 PM | Report abuse

AMERICA IS ABOUT TO MAKE A HISTORICAL DECISION

Numerous forces are at work, pressuring American voters into a decision in a time of stress.

http://pacificgatepost.blogspot.com/2008/10/vote-critical-decision-in-dangerous.html

It is time for cooler nerves to objectively make this decision.

Posted by: JamesRaider | October 2, 2008 9:09 PM | Report abuse

Sally Jenkins' report linked by Chris is a great read, but none of Palin's feats of derring-do mentioned are cerebral, so where's the relevance to tonight's impending disaster?

Posted by: jhbyer | October 2, 2008 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Which candidate sounds like a cheerleader running for student council?

Posted by: officermancuso | October 2, 2008 9:06 PM | Report abuse

I also believe like with Hillary, if she tries the tough attack approach she will only turn off more voters. It is easy saying all those one liners on the stump. She may not like saying them with the person she is talking about on the stage. If she comes off as a wise a$$ again people don't like that either. She is in a more tenuous spot the Biden. We know who Biden and who he is, we don't really know Palin. We may not like what we see if she isn't careful.

Posted by: popasmoke | October 2, 2008 8:56 PM | Report abuse

I think you are completely wrong. The bar is even higher then before for her. The reason being she has blown what ever she had gained in the start and is not perceived as something of a fool. She can't just be average because all she will do is confirm what most think already, she is not qualified. She needs to hit it out of the park tonight. Anything less and she continues to be a drag on Mccain with the clock running out. If tonight is a push this election is over. We already know Mccain can't win this by himself and his magic bullet Sarah Palin, is now all tarnished.

-----------
Almost regardless of what happens, I think Biden will be seen as the loser of the debate.

1. Palin has the lowest expectations of perhaps anyone going into a debate in history. If she can complete sentences, people will be impressed.

2. Although there will be unscripted moments, she's had tons of time to prepare, and she knows what at least most of the questions will be about--policies, things she's said in the past, etc. Unlike facing unforeseen questions from "Charlie" and Couric, she'll look vastly smarter and in control which will shock the heck out of people.

3. As with anyone who's been in the Senate for that long, Palin will be able to criticize and mock him. She will look strong for doing this.

4. Palin's attacks will probably cause Biden to want to respond to her and criticize her, which will be the most dangerous moments for him. He'll likely make a gaffe or violate the narrow window he's allowed of attacking without appearing sexist.

In sum: Biden has been set up to lose and look worse than expected. People will be looking for gaffes, and they will happen.

Posted by: MNobserver | October 2, 2008 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: popasmoke | October 2, 2008 8:50 PM | Report abuse

Political commentators (Peggy Noonan et al) forget mics are on, bash McCain, Palin, and chances of winning

Some folks may not think what Sarah says or how she says it matters, but some of the leading Republican pundits / commentators have a few words to say about it. Check this out - they didn’t know their mics were still on during a radio show! The San Fran Examiner caught former repub speech writer, Peggy Noonan, et al, letting it all hang out!

Check this out: Political commentators forget mics are on, bash McCain, Palin, and chances of winning

http://www.examiner.com/x-276-Internet-Buzz-Examiner~y2008m9d4-Political-commentators-forget-mics-are-on-bash-McCain-Palin-and-chances-of-winning

Posted by: jwedell | October 2, 2008 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Some people think the USA is perfect.

They're wrong. Were it perfect, there'd have been a Dangerfield/Rickles debate.

Posted by: officermancuso | October 2, 2008 8:32 PM | Report abuse

MNobserver, if Biden can't take coaching to get through one debate, he's even more of a basket case than I have long felt he is.

Your arguments, though, are interesting - nearly compelling.

Posted by: officermancuso | October 2, 2008 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Almost regardless of what happens, I think Biden will be seen as the loser of the debate.

1. Palin has the lowest expectations of perhaps anyone going into a debate in history. If she can complete sentences, people will be impressed.

2. Although there will be unscripted moments, she's had tons of time to prepare, and she knows what at least most of the questions will be about--policies, things she's said in the past, etc. Unlike facing unforeseen questions from "Charlie" and Couric, she'll look vastly smarter and in control which will shock the heck out of people.

3. As with anyone who's been in the Senate for that long, Palin will be able to criticize and mock him. She will look strong for doing this.

4. Palin's attacks will probably cause Biden to want to respond to her and criticize her, which will be the most dangerous moments for him. He'll likely make a gaffe or violate the narrow window he's allowed of attacking without appearing sexist.

In sum: Biden has been set up to lose and look worse than expected. People will be looking for gaffes, and they will happen.

Posted by: MNobserver | October 2, 2008 8:20 PM | Report abuse

oldno7 wrote, "Joe Biden will not be able to refrain from saying something extremely stupid, longwinded or condescending (or all of the above). Basically it will be Joe being Joe. Either that or he will plagiarize something like he usually does. Either way Governor Palin will win it in a walk."

I agree with you about Biden, and still predict that Palin comes out of this worse than she went in.

Obama/Biden 08

Posted by: officermancuso | October 2, 2008 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Palin is the new potato...er...Quayle.

Posted by: officermancuso | October 2, 2008 8:11 PM | Report abuse

Joe Biden will not be able to refrain from saying something extremely stupid, longwinded or condescending (or all of the above). Basically it will be Joe being Joe. Either that or he will plagiarize something like he usually does. Either way Governor Palin will win it in a walk.

Posted by: oldno7 | October 2, 2008 8:08 PM | Report abuse


Quick! Check Drudge!

Ifill can't moderate tonight due to complications with the ankle injury, so Ann Coulter has agreed to fill in.

She promises to be fair.
----------------------------

Nah. She's at the symphony. Ask Zouk, the usher.

Posted by: wpost4112 | October 2, 2008 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Watch for the debate to start in black and white, then go to color as David Lee Roth comes out and the drums and guitars get loud. Then Palin will take off her glasses, let down her hair, and do backflips to the podium.

When she leaves, it will be in the ZZ Top Eliminator car.

Posted by: bondjedi | October 2, 2008 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Quick! Check Drudge!

Ifill can't moderate tonight due to complications with the ankle injury, so Ann Coulter has agreed to fill in.

She promises to be fair.

Posted by: viejo1 | October 2, 2008 7:54 PM | Report abuse

PALIN TO DELIVER THE FULL BARRACUDA...

Palin has nothing to lose, and she will be in full Sarah Barracuda attack mode.

Biden MUST neutralize her early or she will sucker punch him (maybe with a single word referring to one of Joe's past foibles).

So all eyes on Joe. If he listens to those who are telling him to just be a gentleman and let her self-destruct, he could lose.

But I think he's smart enough to know that a cornered beast goes for the jugular, and he will not hesitate to thrust and parry early.

But maybe not. This should be good... a co-ed political smackdown... all bets are off, this is anyone's match.

Posted by: scrivener50 | October 2, 2008 7:34 PM | Report abuse


Tonight on the most recent segment on CBS Palin had to stall for a full 8 seconds to name another VP in past history. She finally came up with G Bush Sr. and the look on her face of relief was amazing. When she doesn't know what to say she goes into a panic that can't be hidden.

She will perform tonight either not so bad, or a possible implosion that will be historic. She may completely freeze like many actors do not knowing the next line. It could really be bad. Dogging it as it known in sports. It will be interesting. I doubt she has any chance to win just survive at best and you know what the worst could be.


--------------
This is going to be like a train wreck. You cannot turn away, but it is painful to watch.

Palin is an anti-intellectual, like Bush, and will just try to cute her way through.

It will also be interesting to watch Biden bite his tongue. He could flay Palin in a second. I hope that, instead, he just lets her talk and dig her own hole.

Posted by: mbshults | October 2, 2008 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: popasmoke | October 2, 2008 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Watch for a possible hidden earpiece under Palin's hair, which for the first time this year she's wearing down.

Watch for Palin's classic non-answer answer. Some incoherent junk from Palin that no one can challenge because it doesn't mean anything and has no connection with the question.

Watch for whether Ifill does followup questions with Mrs. P. The Mac attacks on Ifill were to discourage Gwen from asking follow ups (as even Couric did, asking Ms. P repeatedly and, in the end unsuccessfully, "What newspapers do you read?)

Watch to see whether Gwen asks Palin about foreign policy. Gwen was warned not to "or else" by a Mac surrogate.

Watch for Mr. and Mrs. Wm. J. Clinton cheering wildly behind the curtains if Mrs. P is able to complete a single grammatical sentence that makes sense, something she did not accomplish in any of the Couric interviews.

Watch for some unexpected Palin stunt. Like maybe walking over to Biden's podium. Or winking at him. Or maybe confronting Ifill about alleged bias. Or maybe storming off the stage b/c of some alleged insult or affront.

Watch for some idiotic Palin attempt to ask for a lifeline, call a friend, or askg the audience. Or to try to answer "World Peace" to some question.

More important than this foolish junk is VOTE. If you are in an early voting state you have absolutely no excuse. Don't be whining on Nov. 5 you didn't vote because the line was too long, the machine was broken, or "the Man" scared you away. Don't even try it. VOTE

Posted by: broadwayjoe | October 2, 2008 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Are they checking for a earpiece?

Posted by: tmccbo | October 2, 2008 7:23 PM | Report abuse

This is going to be like a train wreck. You cannot turn away, but it is painful to watch.

Palin is an anti-intellectual, like Bush, and will just try to cute her way through.

It will also be interesting to watch Biden bite his tongue. He could flay Palin in a second. I hope that, instead, he just lets her talk and dig her own hole.

Posted by: mbshults | October 2, 2008 7:20 PM | Report abuse

sarah palin saying; we shut down the bridge to nowhere; thanks but no thanks... err " we small town folk don't take kindly to community organizers; especially those in the top of their Harvard law school classes." .. er "stump the candidate?" "and "i'll get back to ya!"
Sarah, Katie's waiting.

Posted by: ukeman | October 2, 2008 7:19 PM | Report abuse

PORK IN THE 700 BILLION DOLLARS?

"I have fought the big spenders in both parties who waste your money on both things you may not need or want. And the first big spending, pork barrel earmarked bill that comes across my desk I will veto it - I will make them famous, and you will know their names! You will know their names!"....His name is............ JOHN McCAIN

Posted by: MILLER123 | October 2, 2008 7:14 PM | Report abuse

**Showdown in St. Louis: What to Watch For**

Sarah Palin shooting a ping pong ball across the auditorium without using her hands?

Posted by: dijetlo | October 2, 2008 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Watch for Palin never answering a question. She did the same things in her debates in Alaska. Except there she was debating some who have never run for office before of debated. Debating some guy who owns a hardware store and is just running for mayor so he can get a stop sign in from of his store or something isn't exactly like tonight's debate.

Posted by: popasmoke | October 2, 2008 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Sarah Palin is the political equivalent of a blind date, chosen for new role in secrecy by a small group of GOP political insiders.

Like many a blind date the chemistry with her is awful. She shoots animals from airplanes, she is willing to uproot her kids and move six time zones without "blinking," she has been dishonest about her political record as Governor. She is such an extremist she insisted that if her daughter were raped, she would make her bear the rapist's child.

These positions endear her to the GOP base. The people who brought us to grief in Iraq, who ran the economy into the ground and who have given us the most scandal prone administration of modern times.

In choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain has placed political partisanship above patriotism.

America cannot afford the recklessness and insider dealing that inflicted Sarah Palin upon us.

Posted by: pach12 | October 2, 2008 7:06 PM | Report abuse

They have video of biden and Palin practicing for the debate at http://www.watchdebate.com

Posted by: pastor123 | October 2, 2008 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Real Brother here.

Again, the GOP and the Black man hating lesbians who supported Hillary are going to spin this no matter what happens. The key will be to not allow them to.

We can fool ourselves all we want, this election is NOT about the economy or the war or even America's health and well-being, its about keeping a Black man out of the White House and continuing the LIE of White Social, Intellectual,Cultural and Genetic Superiority.

They care about nothing else.

TKCAL

TKCAL

Posted by: Realbrother0003 | October 2, 2008 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Will she wear lipstick?

Posted by: wpost4112 | October 2, 2008 6:55 PM | Report abuse

WHAT TO WATCH FOR?

After Palin gaff, McCain in his birthday suit will streak "maverickly" across the stage.

Posted by: MILLER123 | October 2, 2008 6:54 PM | Report abuse

They'll have a pole on-stage for Sarah Palin

Posted by: vmunikoti | October 2, 2008 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Real Brother here.

I predict that Sarah Palin will come off looking like a complete and utter Idiot, yet the Racists, White Supremacists and Black man hating lesbians will swear up and down that she ripped Biden and that the earth is flat and the moon is made of blue cheese.

I have to go back to what the Brother at the barbershop said,"If they saw Obama walking on water they'd say, 'see, I told you he can't swim...' ".

They're a joke.

TKCAL

Posted by: Realbrother0003 | October 2, 2008 6:51 PM | Report abuse

You know, I don't have high hopes for this debate. We seem to have reached a new low, in terms of what we expect from the people who govern us -- and given the low we reached when George W. Bush was first campaigning, that is really saying something.


But I'd just like to reflect, for a moment, on the fact that asking a candidate for the Vice Presidency of the United States what newspapers they read is now considered, by some Republicans, to be a "gotcha" question.


Please tell me we're not serious, here. Asking someone "what newspapers do you read" has never before, to my knowledge, been considered a particularly hard-hitting question. It's never meant to be a trick question, or a devious media device. It is, on the contrary, one of those things that's meant to be a complete, open-ended, time-wasting pander, like "what's your favorite color?" or "do you like pasta?" Only in a fevered dream world could "what do you read?" be considered a challenging question.


Now, I recognize that asking someone to name significant decisions of the Supreme Court might be, you know, a bit of a hard question. Whether it should be a hard question for someone seeking to take the number two spot behind the presidency, I don't know, but I'll grant that it actually requires thought. The same with asking whether or not you know where your own running mate stands, on an issue -- I'll grant that, by God, you actually have to have had some small conscious awareness of the world around you in order to come up with an answer to that one.


But "what do you read" is something that I file under the other category of Questions To Ask Candidates. I call that other category, for the sake of simplicity, Questions A Clam Could Answer. There are the hard questions, and then there are the Questions A Clam Could Answer. Vertebrate questions, and bivalve questions. Questions that require a spinal cord to answer, and questions that do not.


I have every confidence that any plumber, truck driver, school teacher, public accountant, acrobat, farmer, fast food worker, middle manager, chiropractor, spokesman for the bacon industry, movie critic, tree pruner, freelance ghost hunter or dirt poor biochemistry graduate student living temporarily in his van could answer the question, "what newspapers do you read." Maybe the answer would be "none." Maybe the answer would be something else. But it would not, in general, be considered a devious plot by a potential saboteur, something to be responded to with a stutter, mouth agape, fishing for an answer that will not seem to come. It is only when you aspire to one of the highest offices in the land that suddenly you are given the kindness of having it be presumed that you cannot and should not answer Questions A damned Clam Could Answer, and people will rise to your defense if you manage to foul the apparently unfoulable question.


All this leads, of course, to the obvious question: what possible questions could be asked of Sarah Palin that would not be assumed to be devious, or underhanded, or unnecessarily mean? I can presume that "what's your favorite book?" is right out, although any Oprah guest is expected to have the answer ready and at hand. I gather that "do you watch Survivor?" would probably be considered a media trap, and asking something like whether she ever watched the Discovery Channel would likely have the Republicans calling in the Secret Service to form a protective ring around her.


I don't know. Part of me is expecting this debate to be a train wreck, car crash and political typhoid outbreak all rolled into one; the other part of me suspects that as long as Palin is sufficiently belligerent, she doesn't actually have to know or even say much of anything at all. After all, absolute imbeciles have been applauded for their debate performances in the recent past (see Bush, George W.), and to good electoral effect, and Palin is clearly at least capable of rational thought -- though in the Couric interviews it seemed at least some of that rational thought was expressed primarily as muscle twitches. She may, in the debate, resort to the cannon blasts of Word Confetti that she displayed in the Couric interviews -- but honestly, how many people would notice? That is the trick of debates. You don't actually have to know anything -- you just have to be assertive and verbal enough that people watching think you do. Every high school debate team in the country knows as much.

Posted by: DrainYou | October 2, 2008 6:51 PM | Report abuse

I 'll be watching for Zouk ushering at the Symphony tonight.

Posted by: wpost4112 | October 2, 2008 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Sarah Palin will rip off her dress, revealing her wearing a red, white, and blue bikini. She will, then, pull six pack of beer from under her podium and proceed to guzzle it, thereby lobbying fr the Joe Six Pack vote.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | October 2, 2008 6:36 PM | Report abuse

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