schmidt-palin-politicoFormer McCain campaign manager Scott Schmidt tells “60 Minutes” that Sarah Palin’s “Hey, can I call you Joe?” opener to the vice-presidential debate was not, as widely suspected, as attempt to throw the self-important senator off his game but rather a reaction to her having repeatedly calling him “O’Biden” in debate prep.

This anecdote is news to those who, like myself, haven’t read Palin’s Going Rogue.   But, as Robert Costa and Mel Bryant point out, Palin shared this anecdote on page 289.

I think it would have been funnier to work “O’Biden” into the debate intentionally.

A perhaps more newsy revelation that will be coming out in a new book Monday:

Until only days before the Republican Convention, Sen. John McCain was still thinking Sen. Joe Lieberman would be his running mate, until the “blowback” was so strong, they feared Lieberman would be rejected by the party, forcing the last-minute choice of Palin for the role. Schmidt said he believes the Obama-Biden victory would have been even more lopsided without Palin on the Republican ticket.

Despite my misgivings about Palin, all the polling I’ve seen confirms that.  She doubtless hurt McCain with some elite fence-sitters but she more than made up for it by energizing a base that was none-too-thrilled about McCain.   But I still think Lieberman would have been a game changer, both doubling down on the experience factor that was McCain’s main non-Vietnam-related selling point and sending a powerful signal that the ticket would work across the aisle.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, US Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    I think it would have been funnier to work “O’Biden” into the debate intentionally.

    The “can I call you Joe” bit was moronic and reaffirmed Palin as an inveterate ditz.

    But, please explain to me, why is “O’Biden” funny?!?!

    I don’t even know what it is supposed to mean. Some sort of “heartland” jibe at the Delaware Irish?

  2. James Joyner says:

    But, please explain to me, why is “O’Biden” funny?!?!

    First, it simply sounds funny.

    Second, it could have been a shorthand for the similarities between the two men. So, you have Palin set up the meme early that neither of the two men have ever met a payroll, been in charge of anything larger than an office staff, and so on and then dub the “O’Biden.”

  3. HoosierDaddy says:

    Take away Leiberman’s support of the war and you simply have another semi-moderate Democrat. How adding him to the McCain ticket was supposed to be a ‘game changer’ is beyond my comprehension, particularly since McCain was hardly energizing the base himself. I don’t think experience could even apply at that point since it didn’t hurt Obama in the least and could never stick as an issue from the beginning.

    As for O’Biden, well he is an Irishman so it’s not beyond the pale 😉

  4. Franklin says:

    I’m sure this has been debated before, but here’s my two cents:

    I don’t know any of these “base” people who wouldn’t have voted for McCain/Lieberman. While I know several people who would’ve voted for McCain if he had picked Lieberman instead, my vote for Obama likely would not have changed. Lieberman was and is still on the wrong side of most foreign policy debates, and that’s what my vote was about.

    With hindsight, I would’ve lost either way on that issue. And the domestic policy would probably have been better off with McCain/Lieberman.

  5. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    If experience was the criterion for electing a President or choosing a candidate? Why is Obama President? Palin has and had more executive experience than any of the Senatorial candidates. McCain ran a campaign which failed to inform the electorate about Obama’s lifelong ties to radicals and a radical agenda. When Obama stated Preacher Wright was not the Preacher he has known. That should have been hammered into the conscience of the people who elect. Opportunity missed is opportunity lost.

  6. sam says:

    O’Joyner is funnier.

  7. Herb says:

    “sending a powerful signal that the ticket would work across the aisle.”

    Perhaps…but what happened to all this “working across the aisle” stuff? Neither McCain nor Lieberman has shown any post-election willingness to “work across the aisle,” which leads to a few possibilities:

    A) They wanted to work across the aisle, but only if they won the election. Since they lost, no “work across the aisle” for you!

    B) They never wanted to work across the aisle in the first place and the only reason they created the impression that they did was to pander for votes.

    C) When they were talking about “working across the aisle” they were talking only about themselves, Joe Liebermann and John McCain.

    Sorry, man, just not buying that these guys are prisoner of their better natures. They’ve been in the game long enough to know how to play it better than anyone. McCain, in particular, has gotten pretty darn good at this pandering stuff.

  8. J.W. Hamner says:

    I also thought Lieberman was the real game changer at the time… but I’m a liberal from Massachusetts, so I don’t really understand the GOP base at all.

    I just think it’s the move that would have totally distanced him from Bush, so he could have campaigned as “Change with Experience”, which while it didn’t work for Clinton in the Dem primary, might have worked in the general.

    That’s assuming the base didn’t stay home in protest… but doesn’t Lieberman get some GOP cred for wanting to bomb everything that moves in the Middle East?

  9. oligogracy says:

    O’really? I think this campaign manager is making stuff up. It seems pretty obvious to the casual observer that the “…can I call ya Joe?” line was just a setup to be able to get a sound bite with “Say it ain’t so Joe” later in the debate.

    Would anybody have cared if Palin had slipped and called the joker O’Biden? The media and everyone else had her faced off against Obama for the entire campaign, so it would have been a natural enough mistake.

  10. James Joyner says:

    I think this campaign manager is making stuff up.

    Odd that Palin would have the same anecdote in her book, then, no? Unless you think Schmidt ghost-wrote the book?

  11. Our Paul says:

    My view, humble at it may be, is that whatever brain trust is now “running” Sarah is doing one heck of a fine job. Nobody is going to dent her devoted base, and she will remain a force…

  12. JVB says:

    Beyond uninformative at this point and this guy really needs to get HIS OWN life. Either you like her or you don’t and no amount of bashing is going to change that fact. Palin bashers are boring.

  13. sam says:

    Palin bashers are boring.

    But Palin enthusiasts are interesting, in a clinical sense.

  14. Sam Too says:

    I think the experience issue is legitimate. The McCain campaign completely undermined their own strong message about Obama’s inexperience (which I believe was building momentum) by selecting Palin. Yes, she had more executive experience than Obama, but not enough to compensate for her lack of national/international experience and lack of perceived prior interest in national/international topics. Add to that her performance in interviews, etc. and any advantage regarding Obama’s experience level was gone.

    McCain/Lieberman would have strengthened the experience argument…a LOT. Although I have no idea if that would have added more or less votes than Palin’s impact on “the base” – but it would have been a very different race.

    Just my two cents.

  15. anjin-san says:

    First, it simply sounds funny.

    Ummmm, not really.

  16. anjin-san says:

    Nailin’ Palin… 2012

    Now that’s funny.

  17. oligogracy says:

    Odd that Palin would have the same anecdote in her book, then, no? Unless you think Schmidt ghost-wrote the book?

    Lynn Vincent was Palin’s “co-author” on Going Rogue and it’s feasible that the source for this anecdote was someone other than Palin in the book as well. Either way, the explanation seems a bit strained. It does make a more interesting story than saying that it was part of a calculated political strategy.

    If you review the debate you will find that Palin referred to O’biden as “Senator Biden” throughout the debate, until she popped out with “…say it ain’t so Joe.”