Thursday, October 02, 2008

Surprises and Debates

The polls today are surprising--not because they've reversed, but because McCain's slide continues. He lost a point in the Kos poll--down 51%-40%--and about the same in the other tracking polls.

But the bigger surprise is that the McCain campaign has pulled out of Michigan--no ads, no campaigning, nothing. It wasn't so long ago that Michigan looked like it might be the key to the election. Now McCain is forced to defend usually GOPer states like Virginia (where the McCain operation has beefed up) and Indiana. The big battleground now appears to be Pennsylvania, although some polls show Obama ahead there now about as much as in Michigan.

Today everyone is talking about the VP debate which begins in a few hours. The set-up I expected is in evidence here and there, as in Chuck Todd saying the campaign is at a tipping point, and this debate is the McCainers chance. With Palin's expectations so low, a declared win is likely.

But there are some counter-themes. One is that Palin has been pretty successful as a campaign debater, so expectations are a little higher. Another is that she's lost the confidence of so many voters---60% in one poll say she is unqualified--that glib attacks tonight may not help that much.

And yet another is that with the combination of history (VP debates haven't had much impact on presidential elections) and the news cycle (the drama of the House vote on the economic rescue plan tomorrow will wipe out the debate chatter) this debate doesn't matter all that much. For instance, this piece by Walter Shapiro in Salon.

But now that the debate is here, and it is likely to have a huge audience, let's look at the format. It is basically the same as the first debate, but with shorter periods of time for answers and responses. Yet it is plenty of time for Palin to get as utterly lost as she did in some of those interview answers. Here's my feeling about this: she will depend on zingers and attacks. But people are looking at her differently now. She's a VP candidate in a scary time. This isn't a debate for mayor of a town the size of a gym, or a state with the population of a medium sized city. This is the big stage. And as stupid as national politics often are, I don't think she's going to get away with being glib and clueless. Just the fact that she cannot construct an ad lib sentence is, over 90 minutes, going to sink her.

She may win the battle of the sound bites. She is not going to win the debate.

No comments: