- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2008


From her opening greeting to her Democratic opponent in the vice-presidential debate - “Hey, can I call you Joe?” - to her pledge to deliver “straight talk” to voters, Sarah Palin” href=”/themes/?Theme=Sarah+Palin” >Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin never looked out of her depth.

After a month when she was at the peaks of stardom at the Republican National Convention and the depths of late-night comedic ridicule, Mrs. Palin said the face-off with Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. was her chance to cut through the clutter and speak as plainly as she could.

“I like being able to answer these tough questions without the filter, even, of the mainstream media kind of telling viewers what they’ve just heard. I’d rather be able to just speak to the American people like we just did,” she said.

She was stern, conversational and occasionally off-topic, but not flustered. She peppered the 90-minute debate at Washington University in St. Louis with colloquialisms such as “you betcha” and “darn right,” and was never shy to confirm that she’s been part of the national campaign for only five weeks, ever since she was John McCain” href=”/themes/?Theme=John+McCain” >Sen. John McCain’s surprise pick for running mate.

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“It’s so obvious I’m a Washington outsider and someone just not used to the way you guys operate,” she told Mr. Biden.

That’s not to say she kept up with her opponent, whose three decades in the Senate helped him frame long, complex answers steeped in Washington minutiae of legislative back-and-forth, amendments and votes on final passage.

He clearly controlled the debate when it came to foreign affairs and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and held his own in detailing the record of Sen. Barack Obama.

At times he was lecturing, though never overbearing, and he even appeared on the verge of tears when he talked about raising his children after the death of his first wife.

“The notion that somehow, because I’m a man, I don’t know what it’s like to raise two kids alone, I don’t know what it’s like to have a child you’re not sure is going to - is going to make it - I understand,” he said.

Still, he had his own goofs, including placing the executive branch of the government in Article I of the Constitution, which defines the legislature while Article II lays out the executive.

But Mr. Biden was the known quantity; Mrs. Palin is not, and she was clearly on the hot seat. Moderator Gwen Ifill seemed determined to test her, and Mrs. Palin repeatedly found herself defending specifics about her own record, her stances versus Mr. McCain‘s, and her knowledge of Washington.

She was at her most poised when talking about energy and climate change - issues with which she’s had extensive experience in Alaska. She was at her weakest when talking about foreign policy, including stumbling over the commander of the NATO force in Afghanistan, mislabeling Army Gen. David D. McKiernan as “McClennan.”

Mrs. Palin has become a Rorschach test for voters, in particular suburban women and former supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton who both campaigns acknowledge are key to victory in November.

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