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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Setting the Bar Low

In the grand scheme of things, it seems like a futile effort. Raw Story runs the headline, "Dems, press raising expectations for Palin ahead of debate." For Democrats, the danger is clear -- everyone thinks Sarah Palin is mentally helpless. If she shows up the debate tomorrow and displays more intelligence than a styrofoam cup, all the pundits will probably say she did much, much better than expected. Low expectations have their benefits in a debate; ask George W. Bush.

For the press, it may be that they're worried that expectations for Palin are so low that no one will care. Everyone thinks they know how it'll go, so it's kind of like a movie where someone's given away the ending. The media doesn't want to cover a debate no one cares about or one that everyone has already scored to Team Obama.

RS helpfully points us to other headlines:

"Palin Proved to Be Formidable Foe in Alaska Debates," the Wall Street Journal declared.

"Underestimate Palin at your own risk," the Los Angeles Times warned.

"On small stage, Palin scored big debate wins," concluded Politico.

We're also told, "Democratic aides, perhaps wary of Palin's ability to exceed the rock-bottom expectations that she's facing, helpfully forwarded those articles to reporters Wednesday morning."

Left out of the lowered expectations game is that Sarah Palin is quickly becoming as popular as an outbreak of West Nile virus. If people actually liked Sarah Palin, there'd be some danger here. But they don't. As it is, she has to do double-duty here; perform much better than expected and win some people over (or back).

McClatchy Newspapers reports that Sarah Palin's approval numbers in Alaska are now are now tanking.

Ivan Moore, a local pollster who works with both Democrats and Republicans, recently found that Palin's support had slipped to 68 percent. The poll was conducted from Sept. 20 to 22 among 500 likely Alaska voters and has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

Inside those numbers was a dramatic drop in support from Democrats and independents, although support from Republicans remained strong at 93 percent. Among Democrats, her approval rating dropped from 60 percent to 36 percent, a 24-point drop. Among independents, it fell from 82 percent to 64 percent, an 18-point drop.

Moore said those numbers were likely driven by the harsher tone Palin has adopted on the national campaign trail, as well as the fallout from troopergate.

And her popularity isn't doing any better nationwide. After amazingly bad performances in her rare national media interviews, many see her as completely unprepared and in way over her head. "Has Sarah Palin become a liability for John McCain? Since joining his ticket, the overnight political celebrity has seen the shine come off her poll standings and doubts surface among some conservatives once excited about her candidacy," writes the Associated Press's Alan Fram. "...Palin is starting to seem very, very vulnerable."

Fram's article tells us that Palin has dropped 20 points in an NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey and 27 in Fox News-Opinion Dynamics polling. Worse, a solid majority see her as unqualified -- an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll found 61% believe that. Palin needs a gamechanger and so does McCain. A surprisingly adequate performance won't be enough to do the job.

One plus for McCain-Palin is that Joe Biden's a gaffe machine. We haven't seen much media coverage of this, but that's more a result of McCain's strategy blowing up in his face than anything else. McCain chose Palin with the intention of sucking up all the oxygen in the newsroom. He succeeded. Turns out that wasn't a good thing.

For his part, Biden seems to know this limitation. Apparently, the plan is to just answer the questions and then shut up.


If Sarah Palin goofs, flounders, stumbles or blunders during her debate against Joe Biden on Thursday night, Biden is going to let it slide.

“If she makes a gaffe, he underplays it,” one of the people prepping Biden for his vice presidential debate told me. “At most, he says, ‘I am not sure what Gov. Palin meant there.’”

There are three reasons for this. First, Biden does not want to look condescending. For the same reason, he plans on referring to Palin as “Gov. Palin” during the debate and never as “Sarah.” (He will sometimes refer to John McCain as “John,” however, because they have been senators together for many years.)

Second, Biden knows the press is going to pounce on any mistakes, and so he does not need to.

Third, and most important, Sarah Palin is not Biden’s true target.

Fourth and unmentioned, of course, is that he plans to keep the odds of a misstatement low. The media will be more than willing to run "Palin Screws Up Again!" pieces -- in fact, they've probably got the stories already sketched out like Mad-Libs, with blanks to be filled in by the expected mistakes. Biden doesn't need to take that away from her.

With McCain down in the polls, he really needs something to pull this thing out of a tailspin. Meanwhile, the safest result for Obama-Biden to go for is "no change."

I think they'll get it.



timethief said...

I enjoy reading your posts because they are well researched and well written. But, most of all, as I'm a Canadian I enjoy the thoughtfulness and insight you provide. You write in a straightforward and crisp way that helps me sort the the wheat from chaff and focus on what's important.

McCain and Palin are both doing so poorly that he really needs her to come though for him. However, it doesn't look like she has much of anything to offer that will be helpful. I have done a lot of reading and I agree that expectations of Palin are so low that she may surprise us so let's hope the media are on their toes.

Wisco said...

Thanks TT,

The quickest way to put a smile on my face is to compliment my writing ;)