The Filter: Oct. 2, 2008... Veep Debate Edition

A round-up of this morning's must-read stories.

BIDEN VS. PALIN: PITFALLS GALORE
(Jonathan Martin vs. Ben Smith, Politico)

Between Sarah Palin, with her repeated missteps in a series of interviews with CBS anchor Katie Couric over the last week, and gaffe-prone Joe Biden, who also has made for some Maalox moments for Barack Obama’s campaign recently, the two running mates have set the stage for what may be the most anticipated vice presidential debate in history. With all their potential for pitfalls and insta-classic moments, the pair has made the build up to the showdown, to take place here Thursday night at Washington University, feel more like a NASCAR race than a serious political forum: the audience may be tuning in as much in anticipation of cringe-inducing pile-ups as they are to watch the typical parry-and-thrust of debate. Both campaigns, though, offer public confidence in their number twos, while privately hoping that their veeps will do no harm.

PALIN FACES DEFINING MOMENT
(Brian Montopoli, CBS News)

Following her successful entry onto the national stage, however, Palin has struggled. Though she continues to attract large crowds on the campaign trail and delight social conservatives, her performance in the past few weeks has raised questions, even among conservatives, about whether McCain made a wise choice. As a result, Thursday's vice presidential debate is shaping up as a career-defining moment for Palin, one that could dictate whether she is ultimately remembered as the GOP's election-year savior or as an overwhelmed neophyte who never belonged on the national stage. Conscious of the importance of Thursday's face-off with Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, Palin is in the midst of three days of intense debate preparation with McCain aides at the Arizona senator's Sedona ranch.  Though some believe that expectations have grown so low that Palin is virtually guaranteed to exceed them Thursday, there is a growing sense that the Alaska governor must do something positive to counteract the increasingly negative perception of her amongst opinion leaders.  

BIDEN AND PALIN FACE STARKLY DIFFERENT RISKS, EXPECTATIONS
(Sam Youngman, The Hill)

Republicans say Biden, debating in favor of Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s record, will be contradicting policy disagreements he made during the nomination battle. They will be watching for flip-flops and for the Delaware senator’s tendency to exaggerate or put his foot in his mouth.Palin, Democrats argue, continues to be an unknown to most voters, and she has a long way to go to ease their concerns about how qualified she is to be president — especially since the few media interviews she’s done got widely panned. In the days leading up to the debate in St. Louis, both campaigns have sharpened their knives when it comes to the opposing running mate, and a number of outside groups have taken aim at the No. 2s. But voters tuning in will likely be holding the two candidates to two very different standards. Biden faces almost the exact opposite expectations Palin does. The senator has been around Washington for 30 years, Republicans opponents say, and he should have no problem handing in a strong debate performance. Any failure to do so will be because he has fundamental disagreements with Obama or because he exaggerates the Democratic ticket’s policy positions.

BIDEN PREPARES FOR PALIN WITH EYE ON GENDER PITFALLS
(Amy Chozick, Wall Street Journal)

For all the speculation over how Sarah Palin will fare in the vice-presidential debate Thursday night, her Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, faces a challenge of his own: taking on the Alaska governor without coming across as sexist or a bully. Barack Obama's campaign has assembled a team of top advisers, including several prominent female debaters, to help prepare the Delaware senator, known for his tough attacks and candor, to debate the Republicans' first female vice-presidential nominee. Since Sunday, the team has been hunkered down at the Sheraton Suites hotel in Wilmington, Del. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has been playing the role of Gov. Palin. "I want to beat him up a little, so he does well," Gov. Granholm told reporters. One Biden aide said Gov. Granholm was chosen to portray Gov. Palin in the preparations because she ran as an outsider and reformer in Michigan in 2002 and 2006. Like Gov. Palin, Gov. Granholm is a former beauty queen and sports mom. Sen. Biden also has received advice from Democratic primary opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and a number of top campaign aides. Aides say Sen. Biden will emphasize issues rather than attacks, and debate preparations have centered on making the case for Sen. Obama rather than tearing down Gov. Palin.

AN EVERYMAN ON THE TRAIL, WITH PERKS AT HOME
(Mike McIntire and Serge F. Kovaleski, New York Times)

Mr. Biden certainly can trace his roots to the working-class neighborhoods of Scranton, Pa., and Claymont, Del., where he was raised. But these days, his kitchen table can be found in a 6,800-square-foot custom-built colonial-style house on four lakefront acres, a property worth close to $3 million. Although he is among the least wealthy members of the millionaires club that is the United States Senate — he and his wife, Jill, a college professor, earn about $250,000 a year — Mr. Biden maintains a lifestyle that is more comfortable than the impression he may have given on the campaign trail. A review of his finances found that when it comes to some of his largest expenses, like the purchase and upkeep of his home and his use of Amtrak trains to get around, he has benefited from resources and relationships not available to average Americans. As a secure incumbent who has rarely faced serious competition during 35 years in the Senate, Mr. Biden has been able to dip into his campaign treasury to spend thousands of dollars on home landscaping and some of his Amtrak travel between Wilmington, Del., where he lives, and Washington. And the acquisition of his waterfront property a decade ago involved wealthy businessmen and campaign supporters, some of them bankers with an interest in legislation before the Senate, who bought his old house for top dollar, sold him four acres at cost and lent him $500,000 to build his new home.

PALIN'S STRENGTHS ROOTED IN ALASKA
(Sally Jenkins, Washington Post)

It's a household that explains much about Palin, 44, and how she acquired her set-jawed, swaggering demeanor, one that her mother first noticed "about the time she started to walk." Above all, the house suggests how she came by her dissident, out-of-category feminism, a code by which she tackles old-boy networks relentlessly, while remaining blank if not unsympathetic on traditional women's issues with a capital W, such as sexism in the workplace... It's a code rooted in childhood experiences of backwoodsing and athletic striving "until she was literally red in the face," according to her sister Heather Bruce, 45. They included leading her tiny high school to a state basketball championship, an event Palin once described as "life changing." Composure was a genderless quality, earned under pressure -- as in the time a grizzly bear climbed on the family car. "It didn't matter if you were a man or a woman if you were going out to hunt," says her brother Chuck Jr., 46. They are experiences Palin will draw on to deal with crushing pressure of a different sort: her vice presidential candidacy and her debate Thursday night with her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr (Del.). Friends and family insist that she will reassert her famous self-will when she takes the stage in St. Louis.

SARAH PALIN'S COLLEGE DAZE
(Timothy Noah, Slate)

Sarah Palin's performance in her CBS News interviews has been so poor that one can't avoid speculating about the depth of her ignorance. As Inoted earlier, the Republican vice-presidential nominee can't be faulted for fumbling Charlie Gibson's pompous question about the Bush Doctrine in her ABC News interview, because there's no consensus about what the "Bush Doctrine" even is... But Palin's befuddled nonanswers to Katie Couric's questions (click here, here, here, and here) raise too many questions. Was she really unsure about the meaning or proper pronunciation of the word caricature? Had she truly failed to notice that John McCain jumped down Barack Obama's throat when Obama publicly proposed attacking al-Qaida in Pakistan's ungoverned tribal regions? Why couldn't she name a single newspaper or magazinethat she read on a regular basis before being tapped for the national ticket? In an unaired portion that a Palin aide apparently described to Politico's Jonathan Martin, why couldn't Palin name a single Supreme Court decision apart from Roe v. Wade? In an earlier (2007) interview with Charlie Rose on PBS, why did Palin, after mentioning C.S. Lewis ("very, very deep") as a favorite author, go on to cite George Sheehan, a onetime columnist for Runner's World? You can shrug off any one of these questions as unfair, but together they merge into one rude but necessary query: What does Palin know

MCCAIN'S NOSEDIVE: SHORT-TERM TACTICS, LONG-TERM PROBLEMS
(James Carney and Michael Scherer, Time)

Since mid-summer, the Arizona senator has effectively dominated the day-to-day media narrative through a series of surprising, bold and, to some, reckless tactical moves designed to keep his opponent on the ropes... Each of the bold moves brought McCain short-term political gain, throwing the often unflappable Obama off his stride and keeping the Republican nominee very much in the presidential hunt in a dismal year for Republicans. But the tactics also each contained the potential for long-term political costs by distracting from, or eroding, the central McCain message. By comparing Obama to a vacuous Hollywood starlet, McCain found a coherent critique of Obama, but relinquished his own ability to float above the political maw. By choosing Sarah Palin, he lit a grassfire of GOP enthusiasm, but risked undermining his ticket's claim of greater experience and putting "country first." By attacking Obama's "lipstick on a pig" comment, the campaign clearly established itself as willing to engage in frivolous, small-ball distractions, a disposition that served McCain poorly when he pivoted and tried to portray himself as a sober statesman willing to halt his campaign to deal with the nation's financial meltdown. Most recently, he rolled out a new ad calling on a new spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation in the nation's capital, only a day after blaming the House of Representatives' defeat of the Administration's bailout bill on Democrats and Obama.

NOT-SO-SECRET HANDSHAKE
(Jeff Zeleny and Michael Cooper, New York Times)

It was Senator Barack Obama who crossed the aisle. As the senators gathered to vote on the $700 billion financial rescue package on Wednesday evening, Mr. Obama walked over to the Republican side of the chamber to extend a greeting to Senator John McCain. He got a chilly response. While it took Mr. Obama several seconds to make his way over to see his rival, Mr. McCain barely pivoted his body as he took Mr. Obama’s hand for a handshake that lasted just a moment. The eye contact was just as brief. The moment provided a rare element of drama in an otherwise routine evening of votes. It was a curious sight on Capitol Hill, marking the second time in less than a week that the two presidential candidates crossed paths in Washington over deliberations on the economic relief package intended to stabilize the nation’s financial system. Mr. Obama, who first arrived on the Senate floor at 5 p.m., presented his argument in favor of the legislation in a 13-minute speech. When Mr. McCain arrived shortly before 8 p.m., he did not join other Republicans in addressing the Senate. Aides to Mr. McCain said he had already addressed the substance of the bill during a speech earlier in the day in Missouri.

SLOW RISE FOR A NEW ERA
(Harold Meyerson, Washington Post)

We are, just now, stuck between eras. The old order -- the Reagan-age institutions built on the premise that the market can do no wrong and the government no right -- is dying. A new order, in which Wall Street plays a diminished role and Washington a larger one, is aborning, but the process is painful and protracted... Already, it's clear that we will emerge from this crisis with fewer but bigger banks. As a result of the recent government-arranged consolidations and fire sales, three banks -- JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup -- will control roughly one-third of all deposits. They will be too big to fail. They will also be so big that they'll be able to set the price for money when Americans come borrowing. As such, they will require tighter regulation than we've imposed on banks before. And that's hardly the only arena in which government will have to do more. With financial institutions de-leveraging and lending less, it will fall upon the government to invest more in the American economy -- to diminish the effects of the recession that is coming down the tracks and to build the kind of infrastructure that will enhance American competitiveness in a global economy. It's not just investment banks that have fallen by the wayside in the recent carnage; it's the ideology of unregulated capitalism -- of Reaganism. And if Republicans cannot find a way to disenthrall themselves from their faith in their old gods, they may ensure that the GOP itself becomes one more casualty in the collapse of laissez faire.

AS BATTLEGROUND, COLORADO IS IN FULL SWING
(M.E. Sprengelmeyer, Rocky Mountain News)

Sen. John Kerry flirted with Colorado in 2004. This year, Sen. Barack Obama is here to dance. In the first week of October four years ago, the Democratic presidential nominee and his campaign still were talking about turning the state from red to blue. But the polls still put Kerry in the close-but-no-cigar category. He had not slipped ahead of President Bush all year. By October, his campaign already had yanked some planned television ads off the air. Analysts, journalists and even some party insiders still wondered if all this talk of Colorado as a true "battleground" state was premature... Four years later, there's no doubt about the state's competitiveness. Just look at the travel schedules. This week alone, Obama spoke in Westminster - his second trip to Colorado since the Democratic National Convention. His wife, Michelle, spoke at a rally in Boulder on Wednesday. Today, Republican Sen. John McCain is back in Denver for his second visit in recent weeks, and he heads to Pueblo on Friday. Running mate Sarah Palin makes her third recent visit on Saturday for a private fundraiser in Centennial... Kerry ended up losing the state to Bush, short by about 100,000 votes. But back then, the Republican voter registration advantage over Democrats was about 150,000 voters. Since then, Democrats have narrowed the gap substantially at the same time the struggling economy and Bush's unpopularity have created challenges for Republicans all over the country.
 

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