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Stakes high for Palin in vice presidential debate

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BETH FOUHY
October 2, 2008
— Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin enters her debate Thursday with Joe Biden needing to make a strong positive impression on voters, many of whom are expressing serious doubts about her readiness.

A new AP-Gfk poll released Wednesday found that just 25 percent of likely voters believe Palin has the right experience to be president. That's down from 41 percent just after the GOP convention, when the Alaska governor made her well-received debut on the national stage.


Thursday night's debate in St. Louis gives her a chance to overcome the doubts in a 90-minute showcase, the first time most Americans outside Alaska will see her in a lengthy give-and-take session.


On the other hand, a poor performance against Biden, the Delaware senator, could cement a negative image for the rest of the campaign.


Palin has been preparing at Republican presidential candidate John McCain's retreat in Sedona, Ariz.


Biden was doing his own intensive preparation near his home in Wilmington, Del., though he went to Washington for Wednesday night's vote on the economic rescue package.


As for Palin's prospects, "the expectations are set so low for her, she could fake everyone out," said Scott Reed, who managed the presidential campaign of Republican Bob Dole in 1996.


Democrats, meanwhile, were doing what they could to dispel the notion that Palin is a sub-par debater. The Democratic National Committee e-mailed news stories to reporters describing her able performances in debates in 2006 when she was running for Alaska governor.


And Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of Obama's most prominent surrogates, tried to lower expectations for Biden on a conference call with reporters.


"My friend Joe Biden has a tendency to talk forever and sometimes say stuff that's kind of stupid," McCaskill said.


Asked to clarify her remarks, McCaskill said she meant them "affectionately."


The 90-minute televised debate was to take place at Washington University in St. Louis, with PBS anchor Gwen Ifill serving as moderator. Ifill herself has come under criticism from some conservatives because she is writing a book on blacks and politics, with a chapter on Obama.



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