That describes the first half-hour of Sarah Palin’s performance against Joe Biden tonight. She was calm, commanding and articulate. She repeatedly knifed Biden with a smile and showed why she is one of the most effective communicators in American politics. I’ve been watching Presidential debates since 1960, and I can’t recall a more one-sided matchup than the first 30 minutes of tonight’s debate. It was all Sarah Palin.
After that it equalized a bit, and by the last half-hour I’d guess that television sets were turning off across America. But there is no doubt who prevailed in tonight’s encounter: the Sarah Palin we loved at the convention is back. In fact, she was markedly better tonight. There were a number of good moments. One of my favorites was her “shout out” to her sister’s third grade class back in Alaska, who got extra credit for watching the debate. This was one of many reminders that, to the average television viewer, Palin is one of “us” and not one of “them.”
Given Governor Palin’s performance, Biden had an impossible assignment. He made things worse with his inappropriate grins and grimaces while Palin was speaking, much like Al Gore in 2000, only worse. Palin, in contrast, kept a steady demeanor while Biden was taking shots at her, like a pro. Throughout, she commanded the stage and displayed more poise and confidence than her opponent.
Neither candidate committed any notable blunders. The closest were Biden’s reference to “Bosniacs” and his risible claim that he likes to hang out at Home Depot. I don’t think the subject of who actually knows how to carry out home improvements–Joe Biden, a Senator since age 29, or Todd and Sarah Palin–is one that Biden really wants to get into.
Toward the end, Loree and I were puzzling about how the Associated Press can try to spin the debate. It’s a tough problem for them. There is no way they can pretend that the evening was anything but a triumph for Governor Palin. My guess is that they have a team of people “fact checking” every word that Palin uttered, and that starting some time tomorrow they will crank out articles that in effect continue the debate, taking issue with one or two things that Palin said.
But that won’t be very effective; certainly not with the tens of millions of people who saw the debate. The McCain campaign badly needed a triumphant night from Palin to get momentum moving its way. Palin delivered. Now it’s up to McCain to keep it going. It’s also up to the McCain campaign to make better use of Governor Palin, one of its best assets.
With very little adjustment to her schedule, she could do talk radio every day. Earlier this week, she did a ten minute appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s show. It was, I believe, the first such talk radio interview she’s given. This is madness. Every day, she should be talking with Rush Limbaugh, Hugh, Michael Medved, Dennis Prager, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Jim Vicevich, and so on. Wherever she goes, she should do fifteen minutes with a local talk radio host. If she went on with people like Jason Lewis and Scott Hennen, to name just two out of many, she would cement her relationship with the Republican base and bring the McCain campaign immeasurable good will.
It also wouldn’t hurt if she sat down for interviews with significant conservative web sites. Hey, we’re available! And, while the campaign’s focus at this point is naturally on “earned media,” I’d like to see a few television commercials featuring Governor Palin speaking directly to voters. As she reminded us tonight, she can do it very well.
It remains to be seen whether tonight’s debate marked a turning point in the campaign, but Governor Palin did about all she could to make it happen.
UPDATE: Frank Luntz’s focus group saw Palin as the clear winner tonight. At the end, though, when they are asked how many have changed their vote, not many hands go up. This is only the beginning of the McCain camp’s hoped-for comeback.
FURTHER UPDATE: The Drudge Poll reflects what happened tonight, with 200,000 votes counted:
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