Palin Says Democrats Looking Back as Biden Ties McCain to Bush

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) — Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin combined a folksy appeal to Middle America with relentless criticism of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as she sought to establish her fitness for national office.

Her Democratic counterpart, Joe Biden, repeatedly tried to tie Republican presidential nominee John McCain to what he called the failed policies of incumbent George W. Bush during a vice presidential debate in St. Louis last night.

Palin, 44, sometimes used humor in seeking to deflect Biden’s criticisms as backward-looking partisanship that she said gave voters little idea of how he and Obama would govern.

“Say it ain’t so, Joe, there you go again pointing backward,” Palin said at one point. “Now, doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future.”

Biden, the 35-year Washington veteran, also sought to project a human side. One of the more poignant moments of the debate was when he choked up speaking about how he understands the trials that Americans face.

He mentioned raising two children on his own and not knowing whether a child is going to live. Biden, 65, was a single father after his first wife and daughter died in a car accident in 1972; one of his sons, Beau, is now headed to Iraq.

“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.”

Populist Note

Palin struck a populist note early in the debate, blasting “predator lenders” and Wall Street for bringing on the nation’s financial crisis.

“There was deception there, and there was greed and there is corruption on Wall Street,” Palin said. “We’re going to follow through on that, getting rid of that corruption.”

Biden blamed McCain for not fighting in the past for more oversight. He pointed out that McCain said “I’m always for less regulation” in a Wall Street Journal interview.

“We let Wall Street run wild,” Biden said. “John McCain, and he’s a good man, but John McCain thought the answer is that tried-and-true Republican response: deregulate, deregulate.”

Palin often avoided engaging the substance of questions on such issues as health care or bankruptcy legislation, instead pivoting away to advertise her middle-class roots and values.

Best Barometer

On the first question from moderator Gwen Ifill of PBS, she was asked whether the wrangling over an economic-rescue package on Capitol Hill represented the best or worst of Washington. Palin replied that the best barometer of the economy can be found at a soccer game.

“Turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them, `How are you feeling about the economy?”’ Palin said. “And I’ll bet you, you’re going to hear some fear.”

At one point, Palin even advertised her lack of responsiveness, saying, “I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record.”

Biden won the debate, according to 46 percent of respondents in a CBS News poll afterward of 473 people who said they weren’t yet committed to a candidate; 21 percent said they thought Palin triumphed.

`Surge’ Strategy

The candidates clashed over foreign policy issues, especially Iraq and Afghanistan. Palin said Obama’s plan to withdraw most U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months constituted “a white flag of surrender”; Biden said McCain had no plan to end the war.

Palin, paraphrasing McCain, said the “surge” strategy that the Bush administration adopted in Iraq needs to be exported to Afghanistan. That drew a sharp retort from Biden, who said the U.S. commander in Afghanistan “said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan.”

Palin disputed that point, mispronouncing Army General David McKiernan‘s name as she did so: “McClellan did not say definitively the surge principles would not work in Afghanistan.”

McKiernan, in a briefing at the Pentagon two days ago, said U.S. forces in Afghanistan can’t copy a central element of American military success in Iraq — directly recruiting local tribes to support them — because the Afghan tribal structure is far more complex and has been shattered by 30 years of war.

“What I find in Afghanistan,” McKiernan said, “is a degree of complexity in the tribal system which is much greater than what I found in Iraq.”

Losing Points

The debate came as polls show that Palin has been losing points with voters. Conservative commentators including George Will and Kathleen Parker have questioned Palin’s qualifications, and she’s trying to overcome stumbles during recent TV interviews that have caused concern in party circles.

In one interview, with CBS, Palin had trouble naming any U.S. Supreme Court decisions she disagreed with other than the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

In a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times national poll taken Sept. 19-22, 46 percent of registered voters said she wasn’t qualified to be president, compared with 41 percent who said she was. The poll showed that hopes she might draw more women to the ticket are misplaced: 49 percent of women said they planned to vote for Obama and Biden; 40 percent picked McCain and Palin.

Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington, said Palin’s performance last night may allay some concerns about her ability to serve as vice president.

`Only Good Thing’

“A lot of Republicans have to feel relieved,” Cook said. “This debate is the only good thing to happen to Republicans all week.”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said the “new information” from the debate was that Palin “could hold her own on tough questions with a much more experienced senator.”

Biden has had his own missteps. During an interview with the same CBS anchor, Katie Couric, Biden pointed to former President Franklin Roosevelt as an example of a good leader during a crisis. He said Roosevelt immediately got on television to talk about the stock market crash in 1929. The only problem was that Herbert Hoover was president at the time and Americans didn’t have televisions.

Overshadowed by Palin

Yet Biden’s penchant for gaffes is well-known and any missteps have been overshadowed by the attention on Palin. In the Bloomberg poll, 68 percent of registered voters said they believed Biden had the necessary experience, compared with 15 percent who said he doesn’t.

During the debate, the candidates also clashed on domestic issues. Palin accused Obama of voting 94 times in the Senate to raise taxes or block tax cuts; Biden retorted that by that criterion, McCain has voted for higher taxes 477 times. “It’s a bogus standard,” he said.

On health care, Palin touted McCain’s plan to provide a $5,000 tax credit for those buying their own health insurance. Biden replied that McCain would pay for that benefit by taxing employer-provided coverage, which he said would cause millions of people to lose such benefits.

“I call that the ultimate bridge to nowhere,” he said, alluding to a controversial transportation project in Palin’s home state of Alaska.

`Maverick’

Palin used the word “maverick” six times during the debate to describe herself and McCain. Toward the end, Biden took her on over that point, saying: “He has been no maverick on the things that matter to people’s lives.”

Before tonight, there had been seven face-offs for vice presidential candidates since debates became a standard part of presidential elections in 1976. While some have offered memorable lines — such as when Democrat Lloyd Bentsen told Republican Dan Quayle “you are no Jack Kennedy” in 1988 –none have changed the dynamics of the race.

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