The Eclectic Quill

October 2, 2008

Why Tonight’s Debate Could Matter the Most

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 4:11 pm

Sarah Plain is the energy of the McCain campaign. When you want to talk about politics the Republicans want to talk about Sarah Palin. The stories bumping the bailout off the front page aren’t about McCain or even Obama, they’re about Sarah Palin’s interviews. Sarah Palin excites the Republican base and agitates the Democratic base, so much so that many are speculating that tonight’s debate will outdraw the top of the ticket debate last Friday night. As a result tonight’s debate will make or break the McCain campaign. No VP candidate has ever been so significant in the election. Sarah Palin will either make or break the election tonight, but even that might not be the full extent of her impact on this election. Here’s how the debate could hand the Democrats a landslide presidency and a filibuster proof Senate, and what’s made it that way.

Enter the expectation game, which is a virtually comedic one at times when it comes to the debates. Candidates that have nothing but bad things to say about one another suddenly have nothing but glowing praise for the other’s debate skills. That’s the normal situation. It’s what we saw last week with McCain and Obama. This isn’t normal. The expectations game is not so much about trying to sell that your candidate is going to fail, but that your opponent is so good, that even if your own candidate gets a draw, it’s a veritable win. This time is very different. The McCain camp has been put in a awkward position due to her horrendous interview performance of Palin. While there’s been a host of explanations for why she couldn’t answer basic questions none of them have shaken the perception that she couldn’t answer the questions because she just didn’t know the answers. As a result McCain, who should be in the position of pumping up Biden, is put in a situation of pumping up Palin. The Obama camp is happy to agree, ready to point to Palin’s performance in the gubernatorial race and describe her as “one of the greatest debaters in American Politics.” Meanwhile, rather than pumping up Biden, the McCain camp is actually running an ad suggesting that Biden is “ready for a gaffe.” The net result is that Biden is coming here below the radar. The far more experienced campaigner has no expectations set on him while the virtual novice has the entire campaign resting on her slight frame and brain. It will be very hard for Palin to win and very hard for Biden to lose.

Comparing the style of the two debaters they have a common strength, to identify with the ordinary Joe. It’s really what won the election for Palin in Alaska. It’s also one of the things that’s kept Biden in office for as long as he’s been there. Yet there are differences between the two also. Palin delivers her style to cover up a lack of substance; Biden uses his to deliver substance. Additionally their sense of humor has a natural edge to Biden. Palin’s is subtly demeaning, Biden’s is self-deprecating. The compound effect of the two could be Biden coming across as genial and Palin coming across as “mean-girl.” Palin has to be very careful because she could very easily come across as trying to cover up a lack of substance with mean spiritedness and gloss, or should I say lipstick? As things stand right now it’s going to be very difficult for Biden to lose, and very easy for Palin to lose.

Now, let’s consider what could very realistically happen and Palin absolutely bombs the debate. There’s an answer that she fumbles through horribly, or doesn’t know the answer. Let’s consider the possibility of one of those “Putin rears his head” moments, or one of those “I’ll have to get back to you” comments. Let’s just consider that not so farfetched hypothetical and its potential ramifications. McCain is already in a tailspin. In recent polls Obama has held leads in Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada, all of which were won by Bush in ’04. McCain leads nowhere were Kerry won. Additionally, Obama is strengthening his lead in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Finally even states like Indiana and West Virginia are much more in play than they should be. It’s so bad for McCain that he’s closing shop, essentially conceding Michigan. McCain is at a point right now where he simply can’t afford another bad day. A Palin disaster this evening could be devastating. All that energy she infused into the campaign could suddenly diffuse, and the ensuing vacuum could be more than McCain could recover from. Another one or two percent swing in the polls would basically kill any hopes McCain has of winning, and in turn kill any hopes his supporters have of winning.

This is where the real impact of this debate could come in. Currently there are essentially eight Senate seats in play, and the breakdown the way things are going right now would give us a 58-42 Senate. If Palin blows it, and the McCain campaign implodes as a result, then Republicans could just stay home on election night rather than going out and casting a disheartened and losing presidential vote. Even if a small percent of Republican voters fail to show up in Minnesota, Kentucky and North Carolina, we could be looking at a 60-40, filibuster proof Senate. One can only hope!

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