Can Palin Stop the Slide?

Posted by: Jane Sasseen on October 02

It’s not too often that the vice-presidential debates hold anywhere near the interest of the verbal sparring matches that take place between the main contenders in the presidential race. But as with pretty much everything else in this topsy-turvy, surprise filled election, the usual rules don’t apply. And it’s not just curiosity about vice presidential contender Sarah Palin that’s driving the interest. Her popularity helped give the Republican ticket a big jolt in the polls before she came back down to earth with a far shakier performance during a series of media interviews over the last couple of weeks. The race is also now at what could potentially be a critical turning point. With the financial crisis once more putting the economy and its troubles front and center—an issue that has long favored the Democrats— a series of recent polls show the race turning sharply in favor of Barack Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden.

So one key question as Biden and Palin mix it up tonight in St. Louis will be whether the Alaska governor can turn in a strong enough performance to stop the slide the Republican ticket has suffered.

The economy appears to be the main reason for the shift in the race. With less than five weeks to go before the election, a new CBS News-New York Times poll showed that Obama leads rival John McCain by 49% to 40%. Following the political conventions, the two were virtually tied. The economic crisis, and how each has responded to it, has been a key factor. In the CBS-NYT poll, 54% said they thought Obama had a plan for dealing with the economic crisis, while only 48% thought McCain did. Moreover, 47% disapproved of how the Arizona Senator was handling the current crisis, while 33% approved. For Obama, only 32% disapproved of his performance, while 43% approved of his handling of it.

“Obama is clearly now the leader in the race, and that is growing wider by the day,” says Brian Gardner, a Washington DC policy analyst for brokerage firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. He credits the “reemergence of the economy” for the Illinois Senator’s new strength. Daniel Clifton, the head of the Washington office of investment advisor Strategas Research Partners adds that the shift in the economic debate away from energy policy – which had benefitted McCain, particularly after he chose Palin—has also been a factor. “There’s been a big pivot in the electorate away from gas prices to questions of financial security; now it’s about ‘Is my money safe?’” Clifton says. “It’s not that Obama has done anything huge to win over voters. It’s that McCain has appeared clumsy and unsteady has the economic crisis has heated up.”

Palin’s performance also appears to be causing some of the slide. In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, six of 10 voters say they don’t think she has the experience to be an effective president. One-third say they are less likely to vote for McCain as a result. Coming out of the conventions just one month ago, voters ranked Palin equally as highly as they rated Obama and McCain.

So what to expect tonight? For Palin, she’ll have to show a deeper understanding of the economic and foreign policy challenges facing the country than she has demonstrated in recent media interviews; the questions raised by those performances have largely been behind her own sliding approval ratings. She’ll likely go after the Democratic ticket by arguing they plan to aggressively raise taxes even as the economy tanks. As one long time Republican player who is now a lobbyist puts it, “It’s one of the only piercing bullets for them to play – they’ve got to make the case to the average voter ‘Here’s where you are economically now, and here’s how you’d be worse off if your taxes go up.’” Expect Palin to also portray Biden as being on the wrong side of many foreign policy issues, despite his many years of experience in the areas.

For Biden, the challenge is in some ways simpler, though it too is hardly without risk. He has to bring home how little knowledge and experience she has in the big issues facing the country at home and abroad, without coming off as pompous or patronizing. And most important for the Democratic ticket, he has to take care not to commit a gaffe that reverses their current momentum.

Reader Comments

A very concerned American in Tokyo

October 3, 2008 04:36 AM

A note to the US media..especially CNN

Let’s stop analysing and dissecting this debate like it was
another episode of American Idol.
.
We, and the media like CNN need to wake up and consider the fact that our country is now in uncharted waters with this financial crisis.
This is unprecedented. There was one astute member on the post-debate panel who raised the most critical point:
In the event something happens to McCain, are we ready to hand the reigns of President of the USA to Palin. PLEASE thik abouit this.
This is something we as responsible voters MUST consider very hard. I am quite disappointed by Andersoon Cooper and the post-debate “analysts” who simply do not understand that we no longer have the luxury of discussing Plain’s so-called “improved” performance over the disaster interviews she gave a few weeks ago.

I repeat..There has NEVER been a time when we need to SCRUTINIZE and really THINK HARD when we pick our future leaders. Our right to vote and pick our future leaders also carries with it a huge responsibility. We must take this very seriously. We CANNOT and MUST NOT approach this and pick leaders like the the way judges pick the winners on American Idol.
I am seriosuly scared and horrified when I even ponder the remote idea that Palin could be sitting in the Oval Office.

To my fellow Americans and CNN members, it’s one thing to have greedy and incompetent peole as CEOs in Wall Street plunge our economy into chaos, and having Bush spend billions of dollars a .WEEK, along with casualty toll on a senseless Iraq war..

BUT having them in the White House is unacceptable

Carol Eblen

October 3, 2008 05:42 PM

Sarah Palin is a good person, a good Mother, a good Wife, a good friend, a good American, and a good Governor of the State of Alaska, and very likable.

She has the strength of her convictions but, unfortunately, she is a Republican and just a heartbeat away from the Presidency if John McCain is elected President of the United States.

How can we even think of FOUR more years under the Republicans? How can we believe that Sarah Palin is qualified to be the President of the United States ---the head of the most powerful country in the World?

I am an independent who voted for Ralph Nader last time, and I am still undecided. It may be that I will vote for Ralph Nader again, even if I have to write his name on my State ballot, because this is the only way I can PROTEST against the two-party system that created this mess -- and exercise my vote in good conscience.

I would feel much better having Ralph Nader up there watching this Bailout --more so than any of the other attorneys running for the Office of the Presidency.

I would feel better if someone like Ralph Nader would be the next Attorney General of the United States. Ralph Nader has used his knowledge of the law to help the American public and to make American Corporations responsible to the people. He wasn't bought by Wall Street and he has warned of the Corporate looting of America for many years.

Carol Eblen

October 3, 2008 05:47 PM

Sarah Palin is a good person, a good Mother, a good Wife, a good friend, a good American, and a good Governor of the State of Alaska, and very likable.

She has the strength of her convictions but, unfortunately, she is a Republican and just a heartbeat away from the Presidency if John McCain is elected President of the United States.

How can we even think of FOUR more years under the Republicans? How can we believe that Sarah Palin is qualified to be the President of the United States ---the head of the most powerful country in the World?

I am an independent who voted for Ralph Nader last time, and I am still undecided. It may be that I will vote for Ralph Nader again, even if I have to write his name on my State ballot, because this is the only way I can PROTEST against the two-party system that created this mess -- and exercise my vote in good conscience.

I would feel much better having Ralph Nader up there watching this Bailout --more so than any of the other attorneys running for the Office of the Presidency.

I would feel better if someone like Ralph Nader would be the next Attorney General of the United States. Ralph Nader has used his knowledge of the law to help the American public and to make American Corporations responsible to the people. He wasn't bought by Wall Street and he has warned of the Corporate looting of America for many years.

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.

 

Election 2008

Washington Bureau Chief Jane Sasseen and other BusinessWeek writers cover the run-up to the Nov. 4 presidential election, paying close attention to how the candidates will handle issues such as housing, the economy, unemployment, and immigration.

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