Polls: Biden was the clear victor over Palin in debate

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 3, 2008 

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Joe Biden won Thursday night's vice presidential debate, according to two national polls, giving the Democrats fresh, important momentum Friday as the campaign for the White House enters its final month.

A CBS News/Knowledge Networks survey of 500 uncommitted voters taken after the debate Thursday night found that 46 percent thought Biden won, while 21 percent gave Republican Sarah Palin the victory. While two-thirds found Palin knowledgeable about important issues, 98 percent said the same about Biden.

A separate CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey found similar views, with 51 percent saying Biden did better, to 36 percent favoring Palin.

Perhaps most significant, the CNN survey found that 87 percent thought the Delaware senator was qualified to be president, while 42 percent saw Palin that way.

"He didn't ramble and he wasn't patronizing. He stayed on message and linked McCain to President Bush in a very effective way," said Douglas Koopman, a professor of political science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Particularly impressive, Koopman said, was how Biden dealt with Palin's repeated reference to McCain as a "maverick."

"I love him," Biden said of McCain, his longtime Senate colleague. "He's been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives," such as the economy, health care, and education.

Even so, reviews for Palin, whose approval numbers had been tumbling in recent weeks, were generally favorable too.

"Had Palin blown it, it probably would have been the end of McCain's candidacy, but she dug in her heels and enhanced her credibility," said Wayne Lesperance, associate professor of political science at New England College in Henniker, N.H.

But at this stage of the campaign, with Americans weary of war and anxious about the declining economy, the Republican ticket faces a hostile environment since it represents the incumbent party at a time when voters are seeking change. Palin had to do more than merely hold her own to shift the campaign's overall dynamic. But there's no evidence she did that, even if she exceeded expectations for her performance.

Obama led by an average of 5.8 points in national surveys over the past week before the Biden-Palin debate, according to RealClearPolitics.

"Every day that goes by with Barack Obama about 5 to 8 points ahead is not a good day for John McCain," said vice-presidential expert Timothy Walch.

"Every day of the next month is important," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.

Nevertheless, Republicans claimed new momentum.

Palin, who has been unavailable to most of the press corps ever since she joined the GOP ticket, will "be available to the press, and she'll talk to every American voter. She'll be out 24/7," vowed McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt.

Some experts agreed that Palin's folksy style could resonate, particularly with women in the Midwest and West, a trend that may not show up right away.

"People listen to what the neighbors say, what their favorite pundit says and sometimes there's a disconnect between that and what the media are saying now," said Wayne Fields, a professor of English and American culture studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

Ultimately, he said, people base their opinions on their intuition, and "they really don't know specifically what they're basing their judgment on."

Yet Palin probably won't have much more opportunity to be widely heard. Public attention tends to focus most on presidential candidates, especially in the final weeks of a campaign, and there are no more vice-presidential debates. With a crush of other big news stories — including the House of Representatives' passage of the financial rescue on Friday and the second McCain-Obama debate coming up on Tuesday — the Biden-Palin encounter is likely to fade quickly.

"The vice-presidential story is essentially over now," Walch said. "By Monday, we'll be on to another topic."

Biden was in Dover, Del., on Friday, saying goodbye to his son, Beau, who's Delaware's attorney general. Beau Biden's National Guard unit headed to Texas Friday to train for deployment to Iraq. Palin was in Dallas for two private campaign events.

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