VP Debate Instant Reaction
Neil Buchanan observed earlier today that his years of coaching national championship debate teams has spoiled American political “debates” for him. Similarly, years of studying politics and watching political campaigns makes it very difficult for me to analyze these things as other than a wonk.
Joe Biden was about average tonight, hitting the talking points in a way that was far from seamless while Sarah Palin was worse than most, making some attempts like “Say it ain’t so, Joe” at delivering canned lines that made me cringe. She was by no means awful but she struck me as someone obviously looking for her mark. She struck me as rather corny, if not goofy, at times whereas Biden struck me as much more bland than usual. At the same time, though, she didn’t come across as a nitwit.
Watching the debate on CNN, which had dials of undecided voters divided by gender, it appears that “ordinary voters” saw it differently. My wife noted that men generally seemed not to like Biden much and Palin was mostly above the line with both men and women.
The most poignant moment of the evening was Biden’s talking about the tragic accident which took his wife and daughter and the struggle of being a single dad. Palin missed an opportunity to share a human moment after that, immediately going into chipper line recitation mode.
Overall, if this were a collegiate debate scored on points by trained judges, Biden was the winner. Then again, if that were the case, Al Gore would have won the first debate in 2000. We’ll see how the American people view it over the next couple of days.
UPDATE: For what it’s worth, Frank Luntz’ focus group on Fox News, comprised half of people who said they are undecided and voted for Bush in 2004 and another half who voted for Kerry, almost universally liked Palin’s performance. Luntz thinks “we’re going to see a shift” in the direction of McCain as a result of this debate.
Brit Hume, obviously pro-McCain, observed that we pundits tend to “emphasize command of the issues and fluidity” whereas voters tend to look for personal connection. He’s no doubt right on that.