The parties of both candidates exhaled a collective sigh of relief as the first and only Vice Presidential Campaign for 2008 came to a close last night. Regardless of party lines, the candidates exceeded the expectations of the largest television audience to watch such an event. Although the CNN poll picked Senator Joe Biden 51% over Governor Sarah Palin 36%, the candidates were dead even based on their communications skills.
While Biden, a 36 year veteran of the Senate and the current chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, displayed his significant of knowledge of foreign affairs, it was Palin who won points for her folksy likeability. Both candidates walked out onto the stage smiling and waving. Palin, looking sharp in a black suit, blew a kiss to the audience. As they smiled and shook hands, Palin asked, “May I call you Joe?”
Palin’s colloquial language was in sharp contrast to Biden’s more formal style. Expressions like “I betchya”, “gettin’ down to gettin’ done”, “darn right” and “say it ain’t so Joe” flowed effortlessly from her lips. I’m sure this was a conscious effort to expand her appeal to middle class America. Her seemingly spontaneous comment about the third grade class that was watching the debate in her home of Wasilla getting extra credit brilliantly advanced her all American appeal.
Palin went on the attack early, frequently punctuating her assertions with winks and the squinting of her eyes. Her first volley “Senator I do respect your years in the U. S. Senate, by I think Americans are craving something new and different…” was followed by the poignant “the Joe six packs and hockey mom s across the nation, I think we need to ban together and say ‘never again’”. Later she sharply criticized Obama’s time table for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq with “Your plan is a white flag of surrender,” adding “it goes beyond naiveté.”
Nonetheless, Biden’s strong, measured responses displayed his knowledge and experience as a tested politician. Absent was his tendency to fire off a comment without forethought. It was interesting to see how he typically took a beat to answer questions, a lesson I’m sure he practiced tirelessly in rehearsals.
Although Palin held her own during the debate, she shirted some questions and instead craftily directed her responses to topics she was more comfortable discussing. All too frequently she went on to discuss her defeat of big oil companies in Alaska, a tactic she will need to correct for future press interviews.
Cool and confident in a dark suit, light blue tie and white shirt, Biden frequently flashed a big, broad smile. Meanwhile, Palin continually displayed her uncanny ability to smile while on the attack. I suspect this unnerved Biden, as his nonverbal response was to immediately fire back an even bigger, somewhat contrived smile.
Both candidates connected with the television audience by looking directly at the camera on their strong, well practiced opening and closing statements, thus bringing to a conclusion the much anticipated Vice Presidential Debate of 2008.
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Stay tuned for the 90-minute Presidential Debate on Tuesday, October 7 at 6:00 p.m. PDT from Belmont University where moderator Tom Brokaw will call on members of the audience and draw questions from the internet. In the spirit of the Town Hall, all questions will come from the audience or internet and not the moderator.
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