Colorado State U. Professors Weigh In On VP Debate

This story was written by Jim Sojourner, Rocky Mountain Collegian
Local political analysts and a Colorado State University student weighed in on the performances of vice presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden following the televised debate Thursday night.

In the midst of this week's economic turmoil, the candidates traded jabs in the first and only vice presidential debate of the 2008 election season.

The debate pitted Palin, who has received media scrutiny for her recent interview with Katie Couric, against longtime Washington insider Biden on issues such as the unstable economy, energy crisis and war in Iraq.

William Chaloupka, a CSU political science professor, said he thought both candidates spoke to their constituencies and met the expectations of their parties, but did not say anything groundbreaking.

Chaloupka said each candidate took a very different approach to the debate but accomplished what each wanted.

He said Palin took a distinctly populist approach and tried to appeal to her conservative base while Biden took a different approach to appeal to the Democratic base by attacking the policies of the Bush administration and linking McCain to those policies.

The differences between the candidates were particularly pronounced in their foreign policy viewpoints, Chaloupka said.

"It's interesting that Biden discussed the demise of America's reputation abroad," Chaloupka said. "It's an unmistakable event, but not the kind of thing you would usually mention."

He said Palin responded with a broad, pro-American statement.

Ultimately, Chaloupka said, in an election as partisan as this one, the points each candidate argued were "too fine." He said the positions of both individuals are too embedded in the history of the campaign to make a large impact.

"In the end this election is about McCain and Obama. I think Republicans are pretty happy tonight, and I think Democrats are pretty happy tonight," Chaloupka said.

He added that the undecided voters, who he believes do not base their decisions largely on emotions, will probably have little change in their opinions.

John Straayer, also a CSU political science professor, agreed with Chaloupka that the debate will probably be of little significance in terms of impact, but disagreed about the performance of the candidates.

In general, Straayer said Biden came across as significantly better informed.

"If I can use a corny analogy, [Palin] was a little bit like someone who showed up to the final exam having done only half the required reading. Biden had done all of it," Straayer said.

Straayer said many people expected Palin to "rock the socks off everyone" or get beat handily, but that neither scenario played out.

"I think she seemed well prepared with about a half-an-hour of scripted answers," Straayer said. He said she had to try to make those answers last 90 minutes and frequently returned to off-topic talking points.

"She'd get a question about the economy or the war in Iraq, and she'd talk about energy," Straayer said, laughing.

Chaloupka also agreed that Palin did not stay on topic.

Straayer said that although Palin came across with a pleasant, friendly demeanor and that he thought she handled herself well, she was simply outmatched in her knowledge of issues.

"I would clearly give it to Biden, primarily on his substance, or conversely on the lack of hers," Straayer said. "Having said that, what else can you expect?"

However, it was certainly not a "10 to 1" victory, Straayer said, and "it won't change things very much, I think."

Bijah Gibson, a ophomore journalism major, said he felt, after all was said and done, the debate was a draw.

"I feel as though Senator Biden did an excellent job demonstrating his experience in politics," Gibson said. "Governor Palin did an excellent job relating experience in her life as a middle class citizen to how she would go about making policy."

"In my opinion, there was no clear winner."
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