Editorial: Vice presidential debate won’t decide election

Sarah Palin’s performance Thursday night will probably not be enough to turn GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign around.
He missed the opportunity for a game-changing breakthrough by not siding with the American people and opposing the $700-billion (plus $100-billion-plus in “sweeteners”) financial bailout.

However, with her confident, folksy, fluent performance in the vice presidential debate, Palin not only erased many of the doubts emanating from some shaky media interviews in the past couple of weeks, she almost certainly assured herself a prominent place in national Republican politics for as long as she wants it.

Whether she remains as governor of Alaska or runs for the U.S. Senate, she is likely to be a coveted speaker at Republican state conventions and fundraising dinners for years to come — and prominently mentioned for higher office.

To be sure, the discussion of issues Thursday night was more than a bit superficial on both sides. But Palin seems to understand instinctively that these “debates” more closely resemble show business than a graduate-level seminar on arcane points of policy or sweeping discussions of grand strategy.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden seemed to have gotten that message as well. His mission Thursday night was not to overwhelm us with vast knowledge garnered from long years of experience, but to attack John McCain and avoid appearing overbearing or condescending. He accomplished that task, modest as it was, and seemed to get stronger as the evening wore on.

Vice presidential candidates and their debates typically have little long-term impact on presidential races. There has been unusual interest in the position this year, largely because of the surprise choice of Palin. However, while her performance may well have energized the Republican “base,” and stopped the bleeding, it will be up to John McCain himself, in the two debates remaining, to make up the ground he has lost to Barack Obama.

Perhaps that is as it should be.