The word around the schoolyard is that Palin's strategy tonight will be to confront Biden on his voting record in the Senate -- notably on the fact that he voted *for* the use of force in Iraq in 2002 when his boss doesn't think it was a vote he would've made (had he been there). This is an interesting development since it has a reasonable chance of working: Biden has been prepping for over a week now on the presumption that he must not be too hard on Palin or risk coming across as a bully--and now here she is, apparently planning to make him look weak unless he can adjust in mid-stream.
All debate strategies are inherently gambles because there's no way to know for sure what the other person will say or how they'll react to what you say, but Palin has proven that she can, at the very least, read a speech off of a teleprompter that attacks the other ticket with the very kind of savage vitriol that Vice Presidential nominees are supposed to bring to the process, generally. Senator Biden will have to make a (presumably) un-rehearsed course correction, which in turn could lead to him mis-speaking, and the next thing you know we could all be talking tomorrow morning not about what Palin said tonight but what Biden said tonight--which is the only way he can lose.
You've gotta hand it to 'em, frankly: The Republicans are very, very good at all of this. They've looked pretty disorganized and reactive since the Lehman collapse two Mondays ago, but it's been an eighteen-day run for Obama with no real fear of the other side doing anything other than shooting itself in the foot; it had to stop sometime. (Never mind the fact that Palin may be wearing an earpiece, something she wasn't doing for her interviews with Katie Couric.)
Does all of this mean that Palin will win the debate? Am I predicting the biggest oratory upset in modern electoral history? No. But with this afternoon's announcement from the Palin camp I do now think the performances will be much more closely matched than I'd been anticipating before, and that will form the basis of a "kind of" win for Palin. I remain steadfast in my assertion that Obama's lead is so structural right now that a lackluster debate performance by Biden is almost physically precluded from hurting him, but Palin just might turn a corner on hurting her own team this evening--and the way things have been going for them, that would still be a pretty big improvement.
Things to watch:
- Does Palin look comfortable when she takes the stage? This could tell a big part of the story, since (like the rest of us) she seems most likely to blunder when she's feeling pressed
- Does Gwyn Ifil bend too far over backward to prove she's being fair to Palin, by scuttling some of her toughest questions at the last minute?
- Does Biden say "The Governor is right," the way Obama said "John is right," at the risk of a venomous RNC commercial suggesting that the two of them are pansies?
- If Palin attacks Biden, will he react on the fly or stick to the script, and which one will seem more effectual, afterward? Will he look weak by sticking to the script, or will he gaffe by improvising?
- Will anything memorable happen? By which I mean, more memorable than happened at the first debate? At the water-cooler tomorrow, will Governor Palin's performance be thought of in the same light as this one?
Whatever happens, I'm as keyed-up and ready for all of it as you are. Stay tuned....
("The Key Grip")