Palin, Biden exchange blows in close debate
The two vice presidential candidates, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska), squared-off for the first time Thursday in a debate held at Washington University in St. Louis Missouri.
The debate, moderated by journalist Gwen Ifill, who hosts the PBS show Washington Week, aired to approximately 69.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The two candidates discussed taxes, energy and oil, same-sex marriage, Iraq and Afghanistan and the current economic crisis.
A coin toss at the beginning of the debate gave the first question of the night to Biden.
"The economic policies of the last eight years have been the worst economic policies we've ever had. As a consequence, you've seen what's happened on Wall Street," Biden said. "If you need any more proof positive of how bad the economic theories have been, this excessive deregulation, the failure to oversee what was going on, letting Wall Street run wild, I don't think you needed any more evidence than what you see now."
Palin agreed with Biden saying the best barometer of the current situation would be to go to a child's soccer game, turn to any parent there and ask how they're feeling about it. She said she thought most would express fear for the state of the nation.
"Our economy is hurting and the federal government has not provided the sound oversight that we need and that we deserve, and we need reform to that end," she said.
The two also sounded off on the War in Iraq, an issue close to both of their hearts, since both have sons overseas.
"I am very thankful that we do have a good plan and the surge and the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that has proven to work, I am thankful that is part of the plan implemented under a great American hero, General Petraeus, and pushed hard by another great American, Senator John McCain," Palin said.
But Biden countered by saying he did not see a real plan in the Republican war rhetoric.
"Barack Obama has offered a clear plan. Shift responsibility to Iraqis over the next 16 months. Draw down our combat troops," he said. "Barack Obama and I agree fully and completely on one thing: You've got to have a time line to draw down the troops and shift responsibility to the Iraqis."
Later in the debate, Ifill asked Palin to address the common perception that she does not have enough experience for the position.
"My experience as an executive will be put to good use as a mayor and business owner and oil and gas regulator and then as governor of a huge state, a huge energy-producing state that is accounting for much progress towards getting our nation energy independence and that's extremely important," she said.
But Palin said, it is her experience as an American that will really count.
"Being a mom, being one who is very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills?" she said. "About times in our marriage in our past where we didn't have health insurance and we know what other Americans are going through as they sit around the kitchen table and try to figure out, how are they going to pay out-of-pocket for health care? We've been there."
Biden also addresses concerns about his lack of discipline, which Ifill called his Achilles heal.
"You're very kind suggesting my only Achilles heel is my lack of discipline," he said. "Others talk about my excessive passion. I'm not going to change. I have 35 years in public office. People can judge who I am. I haven't changed in that time."
In spite of the debate, many students at the University are still undecided about the right candidate for the job.
Justine Abrams, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, is a registered independent and before the debate said she favored Biden.
"Joe Biden was my choice to win the democratic nomination," she said. "I [am] leaning toward Obama, but I am not 100 percent sure yet."
She said she agreed with many political pundits and news people that Biden won the debate. Abrams said she also thought the general consensus that Palin improved over her previous interviews was correct.
"She did much better in the debate than she did in previous interviews. Her tendency to beat around the bush [is] exhausting and unnecessary," Abrams said.
According to an Associated Press poll conducted before the debate, only 25 percent of voters felt Palin has the experience required to be the Vice President.
Nicholas Sasso, a Livingston College senior, considers himself undecided but said the govenor had weaknesses.
"Palin kept repeating herself," he said. "She called John McCain a maverick and Biden called her on that."
Sasso said he believed Palin's speech was more straightforward in this debate but her points were not as strong as Biden's.
"I have heard most people leaning towards Obama. I don't like to pick a party. I don't want to be labeled. I go for the candidate," Sasso said.
Peter Iwanowski, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said he felt similarly about voting.
"I'm still undecided," he said. "I feel evenly split between both candidates, but I'm a registered Republican. The candidates are more important than political party affiliations. I consider myself a moderate conservative, neither McCain nor Obama have caught my attention or proven to be good leaders. In 2004 I voted for Bush. A lot has changed since then. I am really disappointed in Bush's handling of the war and economy."
As far as the debate, Iwanowski said he felt it was a tie.
"I think [the debate] was neck and neck. Before … I wasn't leaning in either direction. Toward the end I was leaning towards Palin. She was more engaging and brought up more points I was interested in, like tax cuts for the middle class," he said.
But the consensus among voters still remains blurred.
"I think that Biden had a lot of self control, there were a ton of times in which he could have called her out on something," Abrams said. "He showed a lot of respect because he realizes that politics is not just about bashing your opponent."
— Cait Callahan contributed to this article