October 4, 2008

INTERNATIONAL: Few Gaffes and Little Babbling in Clash of the Vice Nominees

By Wesley Johnson; Press Association

America's two vice presidential nominees targeted their rivals at the top of the ticket as both avoided making any significant mistakes in their only head-to-head debate of the 2008 election.

Republican Sarah Palin said Barack Obama's Iraq policy would raise "a white flag of surrender in Iraq" while her Democratic rival Joe Biden linked John McCain with the unpopular presidency of George Bush.

Initial reactions from US political pundits showed both performed well, but while Mrs Palin regained some of her credibility, Mr Biden ultimately came out on top.

A CNN poll found 51 per cent of viewers thought Mr Biden performed better in the debate, compared with 36 per cent for Mrs Palin.

The stakes were high and many commentators believed the 90- minute prime-time encounter would break the record of 56.7 million viewers for the most-watched vice presidential debate in history, set on October 11, 1984, when George Bush senior took on Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate of a major party.

Mr McCain's bold and risky selection of Mrs Palin reinvigorated the conservative Republican base which he had struggled to tame while Mr Biden brings the 35 years of Senate and foreign policy experience that Mr Obama is so often criticised for lacking.

But both candidates have a reputation for making gaffes, with Mrs Palin's performances in recent TV interviews being widely mocked and Mr Biden's record of babbling extending back years.

In the debate, Mrs Palin went a long way to restoring some of her reputation which has been damaged in recent days and Mr Biden successfully reined in his capacity to babble.

As Mrs Palin met her rival for the first time on the debate stage at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, she shook his hand and said in his ear: "Nice to meet you. Can I call you Joe?"

It summed up how the McCain campaign has tried to frame the only vice presidential debate of the election, with Mrs Palin as "Joe 'six pack' American" taking on the Washington establishment represented by veteran politician Mr Biden.

The first female governor of Alaska, and the first woman nominated by the Republican party as vice president, displayed her folksy style that has been mocked by late-night comics, saying "Aw, say it ain't so, Joe" at one point and adding "doggone it".

Mrs Palin also displayed her trademark smile and feistiness in the opening moments of the debate as she sought to establish a connection with working-class voters.

But she frequently brought up issues familiar to her like energy - her state is a major producer - rather than answering all the moderator's questions directly.

Asked if there were any promises she had made to Americans which she could not keep because of the current financial crisis, Mrs Palin said: "There is not. And how long have I been at this? Like five weeks, so there hasn't been a whole lot that I have promised except to do what is right for the American people."

Both candidates looked directly into the camera as they addressed the nation on their candidate's policies.

Ahead of the House of Representatives' crucial vote on a financial rescue package yesterday, Mrs Palin said Mr McCain would "put partisanship aside" to help solve the nation's economic crisis.

Mr Biden criticised the Bush administration and said the US had suffered "the worst economic policies we've ever had" over the last eight years.

"That doesn't make John McCain a bad guy, but it does point out he's out of touch," he said.

Mrs Palin said one way to gauge how bad the situation was would be to attend a child's football game and listen to parents. "I bet you you're going to hear some fear," she said.

On Iraq, Mrs Palin said Mr Obama's plan was "a white flag of surrender in Iraq".

But Mr Biden said there was a "fundamental difference" between the two campaigns. "We will end this war," he said. "For John McCain there is no end in sight to end this war."

He went on: "John McCain has been dead wrong."

Mr Biden continued Mr Obama's efforts to tie Mr McCain to Mr Bush.

"The issue is how different is John McCain's policy going to be than George Bush's," he said.

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