In my last post I reminded you that historically vice presidential debates have almost no impact on the outcome of the presidential race. I expect that tonight’s debate will be no different. However, it represents one of the few remaining chances for the McCain campaign to change the narrative of this race. In a later post I will examine the latest polling data. But suffice to say it shows that the financial credit crisis has been a boon for Obama by reminding voters about the fundamental issue driving this election: the economy. Without going too deeply into numbers in this post, its impact has been to largely negate the gains McCain achieved through the Palin pick, so that Obama is now running 4-6% ahead in national polls, and has strengthened his position in key battleground states. With the number of undecided voters dwindling, and the date of the election drawing ever closer, there are limited opportunities for McCain to change this dynamic. Tonight may be one of the few left. He has to hope that Palin can, once again, change the dynamic of the race, much as she did with her convention speech.
I will be live blogging tonight’s debate, but our “scoring” will be a bit different than for the presidential debate. I want you to judge this debate in terms of the criteria listed in my last post. That is, how well does Palin make her case to the independents and conservative Democrats, particularly potentially disaffected Clinton voters – especially women? Remember, women were the key voting bloc that gave Bush his margin of victory in 2004; although Kerry won the women’s vote, Bush secured across the board gains in all groups of women and that largely accounted for the substantial increase in his support over 2000. Right now, although McCain is winning among men, he is losing among women by some 9%. So we will judge Palin’s performance on her ability to peel off some of that support. Biden, in contrast, has a somewhat different task. He needs only to stay on message, remind voters that the economy under Bush is a mess, and that Obama represents change while McCain is of the party that created this mess. That’s it. So he wins if he doesn’t screw up by talking too much and does not stray from this core message.
The debate starts at 9. I look forward to your live input (particularly from students in my class – you know who you are!)