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Saturday, October 4, 2008

VP Debate: Tina Fey's Job Just Got Harder

By Sarah Lai Stirland

It's a far cry from the universal admiration that Sarah Palin elicited after her debut at the Republican National Convention this summer, but Thursday night's performance during the vice presidential debate with Joe Biden allayed many conservatives' fear that Palin would bomb, and take down the campaign with her. Bidenpalin

Republican tech strategist Jon Henke, part of the coveted youth demographic that the presidential candidates are trying to win over, voiced a common sentiment when he opined that Palin did well because "she didn't make any major mistakes."

Initial polls showed that Biden's performance appealed to those who haven't committed themselves to either camp. A CBS poll found that 46 percent thought Biden had performed the best while 21 percent thought Palin did. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll showed that just over half of those surveyed thought Biden had performed the best during the debate, while 36 percent thought Palin did.

Other than that, opinions in the blogosphere about Thursday evening's vice presidential debate were all over the map.

For his part, Henke spun it this way: "Face it, Biden did well. He was serious, fluent, he had gravitas. He didn't pull a Biden. And yet, Biden reinforced the real problem he represents for the Obama campaign: Whatever he may be, senator Biden is not 'Change.'"

Patrick Ruffini, a fellow blogger on the site, was more emphatic.

"Tonight, Sarah Palin was sharp, articulate, and connected with the middle class," he wrote. "The #1 political effect tonight will have is an important one for the McCain campaign: she shut the doubters up, and then some. In this important sense, she stopped the bleeding."

But Palin's folksy performance Thursday night didn't shut the doubters up at all.

In fact, one of Palin's most prominent doubters, conservative columnist Kathleen Parker of Townhall.com and the National Review, wrote in PostPartisan, a Washington Post blog, that she "experienced the uneasy feeling throughout that I was witnessing a data dump from a very appealing droid. Even the winks and jaw juts seemed slightly programmed. And the question remains: Is she ready to be president should the need arise?"

Last Friday, Parker made news when she had called for Palin to step aside because she was "out of her league."

Parker said that Palin's performances during her interviews with the networks television anchors had revealed that she didn't know much about anything. The columnist's most damning line: "If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself."

Over on the left, MyDD's Jonathan singer wrote that Palin's performance on Thursday didn't do much to change anything.

"While it may have staved off the hemorrhaging of support for the Republicans, it did little to nothing to swing the momentum back away from the Obama-Biden ticket," he wrote.

And Nate Silver, an Obama supporter, wrote on his blog FiveThirtyEight.com that he thought this was another missed opportunity for the McCain campaign.

He said that he thought Palin's scripted responses and lack of spontaneity allowed Biden to get in effective shots at John McCain.

In fact, that's probably the most interesting insight that emerged from the storm of opinion that poured forth on the web Thursday night, both on Twitter and on the blogs: That despite all the folksy charm, Palin fell short because her debate performance, like her television interviews, was so scripted and unengaging

"Sprphoto" said it on Twitter: "You know what bothered me most about Palin? She came off like a badly voiced cartoon character."

But she didn't make any obvious gaffes. So Tina Fey is just going to have to actually do some work next time around when she presents the world with her next Palin impersonation on Saturday Night Live.

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