Palin Debate Style May Surprise Critics

The veeps past debate performances may hold clues to their face-off Thursday.

Oct. 1, 2008 — -- The McCain-Palin campaign has been warning for some time: Don't underestimate Gov. Sarah Palin. Aides say she is eager in tomorrow night's face-off with Sen. Joe Biden to "show more of what got her where she is today."

Palin, according to her family, is a quick study. As her big sister, Heather Bruce, says in the new November issue of Glamour magazine, "It is absolutely phenomenal what my sister can learn in a short amount of time."

Bruce also says, "What's happening to Sarah Palin right now is like the worst college exam cram period ever."

That cram session is taking place at Sen. John McCain's Sedona, Ariz., ranch where Palin has been practicing and prepping for Thursday's vice presidential debate in St. Louis against Democratic rival Biden. True, Palin has not had the easiest week.

There were scathing reviews of her interview with Katie Couric, even from conservative commentators. "Saturday Night Live's" parody of that interview has already been viewed more than 4 million times on the Internet.

Palin's Past Performances

But if anyone is assuming Palin will have a tough time at the debate tomorrow, they might want to look back at some two dozen debates Palin participated in during her race for Alaska governor in 2006. "This unfunded liability that we face is going to affect every education budget until we get our hands around it," Palin said crisply about the states cash-starved pension system during one televised debate that fall.

The debates covered a wide range of topics — from same-sex benefits to education to fetal alcohol syndrome and energy policy. Palin's answers were polished, and she threw a few zingers at her opponent, former Gov. Tony Knowles.

"Well, Tony, there you go again. I set you straight yesterday, we'll do it again today," Palin told the Democrat. "Tony, I haven't had a private jet to be able to bum from one of my lobbyist friends to zip all over the state and meet and reach every single constituency group that you have."

But even then, Palin's opponents questioned her preparedness.

"You show up for debates ill informed, you carry notes with you. And it's not wrong to carry notes. I mean nobody is the smartest guy in the room. But when the notes consistently say nothing, I think there's an issue there," said Andrew Halcro, who ran as an independent against Palin.

Biden's Past Debates

If anything, aides say, he needs to scale back.

"I think Sen. Biden probably had to stretch a little adapting to a format so different from the uninterrupted debates of the United States Senate," said his spokesman, David Wade.

Biden has been criticized in the past for being long-winded. It once took him 13 minutes to answer one question on Iraq. (We clocked it.)

And critics have at times chided him for seeming pompous or acting like the smartest guy in the room. But Biden is also a master of the one-liner.

In a primary debate last fall, Biden famously criticized former New York mayor — and then presidential candidate — Rudy Giuliani.

"There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11. I mean, there's nothing else."

One of his most memorable debate moments in Biden's career was also the downfall of his 1988 presidential campaign. He plagiarized British politician Neil Kinnock in his closing remarks at a debate. Biden recently told ABC's Charlie Gibson that was a "stupid" mistake, made because he was short on time and didn't fully prepare for that debate.

No doubt he will be prepared tomorrow night.

The Delaware senator has been holed up in debate prep in Wilmington, sparring with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who is playing the role of Palin.