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Instant debate reaction: Biden wins

October 2nd, 2008, 11:28pm by Sam Wang


I call it for Biden, who got better and better over time. Palin herself might be off the table as an issue. I also think we won’t be seeing much more of her this month. That puts us back in the usual position of the vice-presidential nominee not mattering. I might expect some change in Palin’s positives/negatives, but not a lot of change in the race.

Polling groups: A CBS group of uncommitted voters said Biden won, 46%-21% (33% draw). CNN, all debate watchers: Biden won, 51% to 36%. In this group 84% said Palin did better than expected. Is either qualified to be president (CNN)? 87% said yes to Biden, 42% say yes to Palin. Would either be effective (CBS)? 91% said yes to Biden, 44% said yes to Palin. And here’s an excellent analysis by Jim Fallows.

My further reactions…

Sarah Palin did what she had to do: not melt down. Her answers were competent, in some places appealing, but often false (oh boy) and a bit repetitive. The fire of her convention speech seemed to be gone. And by now the “maverick” line is pretty stale. I was disturbed by her odd defense of Dick Cheney’s insistence on the vice-presidency not being part of the executive branch. Still, she gets to stay on the ticket.

Joe Biden was interesting to watch. He was pretty clearly muzzling himself at the start. But as he realized that he had a real opponent, he started letting loose. He was quite moving when he talked about the trials of being a single father with an injured child. It seemed to me that he couldn’t take the parading of Palin’s family story any more. And when he called Cheney the most dangerous vice-president in history, he was on fire. This was a very impressive answer. He closed strong, and I liked him.

Tags: 2008 Election

19 Comments so far ↓

  • Bill S

    I switched over to CNN for the second half of the debate and noticed the following reactions in the real time opinion tracker:

    Biden spent a lot of time in the positive range while Palin tended to stay close to nuetral.

    The tracker was pretty much nuetral when Palin asserted the Constitution was flexibile on an expanded role of the Vice President. When Biden responded by saying he thought Cheney was the most dangerous Vice President we’ve ever had the tracker rocketed to the top of the positive range.

    Biden’s discussion of a timetable for withdrawl from Iraq also got positive reaction.

    Every time Palin used the word “Maverick” the opninion tracker dropped.

  • Mike DeWeese

    I agree with your initial take, Sam. I feared a mediocre performance by both candidates, and therefore a big win for Palin based on low expectations, but both candidates outperformed my expectations tonight. Palin refused to answer some of the questions, but she stayed alive and probably appealed to her constituency, while Biden was forceful without being too bombastic. He’s obviously qualified for the presidency if it comes to that.

    Your observation that Biden held back until he saw his opponent wasn’t going to self-destruct is on the money. I was relieved to watch him make some strong statements without going off the rails. He only strayed a couple times, and only briefly at that, but he showed plenty of passion towards the end.

    Barring any more Palin interviews before Nov, I think the VPs are non-issues now—it’s all about the principles from here on out.

  • John W

    Biden was terrific, directing his fire at McCain rather than Palin, and Palin exceeded dismal expectations. As Jim Fallows notes, Ifill did an absolutely awful job of making this event meaningful. She seemed more concerned about staying on time than on digging deeply. Thoughtful people owe Katie Couric thanks for pressing Palin and thus exposing her vapidness.

  • Observer

    Most of the comments above seem on target.
    I thought Biden missed a major opportunity to score a headline tomorrow. He could at several points so easily have said: “Isn’t Governor Palin in the Republican Party, the party that has had the presidency for the last eight years?.”

  • beingajoe

    I agree that Biden won. It is obvious that he much more well versed and can speak from a depth of knowledge and is not restricted to talking points.

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  • BB

    Every time Palin spoke of government in terms of “the enemy,” I wanted to ask her why does she want to hold elected office?
    Did she not know about Biden losing his wife and daughter or did she not care? Her steam-roller reply to his emotional statement was like a slap in the face.

  • Daniel B

    I think Biden had a mission and he executed. Unfortunately so did Sarah Palin. I think Obama/Biden need to take a new line on the Iraq war to counter the “white flag” attack. They need to say “Our victory will come through their victory.” Meaning the Iraqi people need to stand up and take over the last leg. I feel that will neutralize a strong attack that the dems don’t care about victory.

  • MM

    What made Palin’s responses so redundant is actually something interesting to observe: she jumps to the memorized/written-down talking points and once she has uttered them, instantly “translates” them into her own colloquial style and understanding of them. It shows both a smartness and simplifying process (of already simpflified points). Lots of listeners probably don’t hear both versions, only the second. The result is a constant shift between awkward retrieval and between-the-eyes in-your-faceness.

  • Paul

    I thought that “O’Biden” did a better job of highlighting the differences between the Dems and the R’s than Palin. Palin sounded like the debaters in ’04, which is to say that she did a competent job of sticking to her stump speech points. I thought biden was better on the substantive answers.

    I predict that the debate will merely reinforce the growing consensus about the two candidates, which is MCain is more of the same and Obama is positive change.

    I would predict that the trends that we have seen in the polling data since the last debate will persist or even accelerate, in terms of the shift to Obama. To the extent that the debate has any influence on voter perception, it will simply reinforce the narrative that is shaping the race now, except that it may have also helped shore up the Rep. base.

    I am interested in seeing an analysis of the effect of this debate on voter opinions.

  • Jeff

    I’m really surprised the punditry hasn’t made more of Palin’s remarks about the powers of the VP. Unless I misheard her, she said she’d like to expand the powers of the VP under the constitution, then said she agrees with Cheney that the VP’s office isn’t part of the executive branch. Seems like this should be explored — do we want another Cheney as VP, one with the same neocon commitments (by way of recent and ongoing tutoring) but with no relevent experience?

  • Victor

    I watched the debate on CNN because they had a focus group give their reactions to the candidates in real time. What I noticed during the questions about gay rights is the focus group was very hesitant to tell their feelings until Palin said she had a “diverse group of friends.” After that moment the lines went up and they agreed with her that gay people shouldn’t have any rights. Apparently that was the cover they needed to express their true feelings. It was also the only point in the debate where males gave higher scores to both candidates than females.

    I support marriage for same-sex couples and different-sex couples.

    California, Vote NO on Proposition 8
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  • Bill S

    I thought I heard her speaking in favor of rights for both different and same sex couples but still defining marriage as between a man and a woman. That others heard the opposite is interesting. For the most part I found what she was saying to be so vacuous and confusing that I had trouble listening to it. Which is my usual reaction to peole who I think are speaking without thinking.

    She’s either a dangerously clever and cynical politican who has cultivated the abilty to sound pleasant to half the people while saying nothing or she’s a dimwit.

  • Mike L

    Victor,
    Today I sent in my California absentee ballot with a NO vote on Proposition 8.

    Good luck, and let’s hope Pat Brown’s title makes more people reluctant to “eliminate the right”.

  • Mike L

    One of the most disgusting things about the Veep Debate was the cowardly attack on Gwen Iffil by McCain surrogates and luke warm, at best, acceptance of her from McCain himself.

    On Oprah, Ms. Iffil today revealed that McCain staff had called to tell her they were happy for her to be the Moderator.

    I leave it to others to draw their own conclusion of the impact this might have had on the way the Veep debate was moderated.

    Many comments on some websites are critical of Ms. Palin being allowed to ignore so many questions and just repeat whatever talking points she could shoehorn into answers (from prepared notecards?).

    Biden’s strong debate content and disciplined, but warm, demeanor are all the more significant if one considers that McCain’s campaign might have successfully “gamed the ref”.

  • Sam Wang

    Bill S, I also had trouble following some of the answers. In this case I do think she was being intentionally misleading. Andrew Sullivan points to footage of her campaign for governor in which she (without winkiness or heavy accent) said that she favored legislation to deny rights to same-sex couples.

  • Fran

    Okay – Palin exceeded expectations… but does it not matter that she lied about or was wrong on matters of fact time and time again? Our expectations are indeed low if we’ll settle for such dishonesty.

  • Sam Wang

    Bill S and Fran, read this piece on Palin’s ascent in Alaska politics. Quite detailed – she’s much less of a cipher to me now.

  • Bill S

    Very interesting article but what I’m still not sure about is if I’m seeing is an ambitious dimwit who appeals to a certain portion of the populace or an ambitious politician playing the roll of dimwit in order to appeal to “those folks”. If the latter is the case then one has to wonder if she and Rove have played McCain in order to set the stage for some future election.

  • Arnold Layne

    Not sure why the author didn’t point out Biden’s mistakes. Since he’s such an expert, we should be even less forgiving of his. For example, he said the VP’s ONLY job in the senate is to vote to break a tie. Too bad Palin didn’t turn to him and say “Joe, don’t you know the VP can preside over congressional sessions as he sees fit?”
    ” The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.

    The Senate shall choose their other officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the office of President of the United States. “

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