Veep debate to bring huge audience

— ST. LOUIS — Millions of Americans are expected to tune in Thursday night to the high-stakes debate between usual-also-rans of the presidential contest: the candidates for vice president.

The spin has been intense from both sides.

First, Democrats portrayed her as a small-time mayor from the nation’s most remote state, a one-time beauty queen who was wholly unworthy of becoming vice president of the United States.

Now, though, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is a wily political tactician, skilled in the sublime art of debate and fully able to go head-to-head with one of the Senate’s most cerebral veterans, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.

What happened? Simple - a vice-presidential debate is scheduled for Thursday, and the time-honored tactic is to talk up your opponent’s prowess in hopes of lowering expectations for your own performance.

“You’ve got to build up expectations so you can knock them down. That’s the way the game is played, but fortunately, it’s only played by people who know better. Nobody else takes it seriously,” said Steve Hess, a longtime presidential historian who was a White House speechwriter for President Eisenhower.

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Despite the posturing, there is little doubt that Mrs. Palin must answer the question: Is she qualified to be a heartbeat away from being the next commander in chief?

Trail Times blog: At betting booth, odds are against Palin

Polls show that Mr. Obama seized on the momentum after the first presidential debate on Friday, taking a solid lead in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The financial firestorm raging on Capitol Hill has focused attention on the Democrat’s key issue, the economy, and pushed his rival’s top issue, national security, to the side. While Mr. McCain’s foreign policy credentials match Mr. Biden’s, Mrs. Palin’s resume is thin, even compared with that of first-term senator Mr. Obama, and voters tell pollsters they are looking for reassurance that she could step in as president should her 72-year-old running mate be unable to serve.

Although some viewers of the debate will be content to hear a thoughtful exchange of opposing views by the two nominees, others will be looking for the political version of a high-speed car crash [-] that one devastating sound bite that will define a vice-presidential nominee for the race, and maybe a lifetime.

With that in mind, each side has had only wonderful things to say about the other’s vast Socratic skills.

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