Stephanopoulos: VP Debate Report Card

By Jennifer Parker

Oct 3, 2008 12:33am

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos reports: During their debate tonight in St. Louis, Mo., both vice presidential candidates Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Joe Biden carefully stuck to their strategies and did very well with the strategies they had.

This was a substantive, civil, passionate and pointed debate. Neither candidate fed into the stereotypes about themselves.

Biden A
Palin A-

Biden came in ready to debate Republican presidential candidate John McCain tonight, not Palin. He repeatedly attempted to portray McCain as a continuation of George W. Bush’s presidency. That is the fundamental strategy of the Obama campaign and Biden did it in every single answer tonight. Biden was coherent and consistent.

Palin also did well on strategy. She showed she could handle the debate questions, and hewed to her strategy of portraying herself as a Washington outsider who in her own words could "connect with the heartland." She aggressively attempted to paint Obama as a liberal and tried to drive a wedge between Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Biden on the issue of Iraq.

But Biden gets the edge here because if McCain can’t convince voters he’s taking the country in a different direction than President Bush, he cannot win this race — and that’s the case Biden made effectively tonight.

Biden A-
Palin A

From the minute Palin walked onstage and said, "Nice to meet you, Joe — can I call you Joe?" she had her performance down. It was very winning and very appealing and we saw that throughout the debate. She also tried to wink to the audience about four or five times and you got the sense that she really was connecting with the people back home.

Biden had a more just-the-facts style. But the majority of the voters in the country agree with him over Palin on key issues. At one point the Delaware senator appeared to get emotional when talking about his children — a key reminder his son, Beau Biden is going to Iraq. When Palin misidentified Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, as "McClellan" Biden bit his tongue — a gentlemanly move.

Biden B
Palin B

Both made some misstatements. When Biden argued Obama never said that he’d meet with the president of Iran, he was wrong there. When Biden said that McCain had voted exactly the same way as Obama on a tax vote — that was false. Palin inaccurately claimed Obama had voted to increase taxes 94 times. She also erroneously claimed that under Obama, the government would take over health care.

Overall, Palin didn’t freeze or make any major mistakes. She talked about herself more than Biden talked about himself, likely to reassure voters who don’t know much about the first-term Alaska governor. For his part, Biden didn’t go on too long and was never boorish.

But they were each playing a very different political game in this debate. Palin seemed to be speaking directly to the people back at home in Alaska, a key strategy that could win her support among blue collar voters. But she was careful not to answer the charges Biden was making against Bush or McCain.

My gut tells me there will be a partisan response to this debate with Democrats arguing Biden won, and Republicans reassured by Palin’s performance. However there was nothing to this debate that is likely to change the trajectory of the race.

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