palin biden face off 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Republican Sarah Palin accused Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden of waving "a white flag of surrender" in Iraq, as she used a high-stakes vice presidential debate to try to revive John McCain's campaign and overcome doubts about her own competence.
Biden largely avoided criticizing Palin as he directed his attacks at McCain. He said the Republican had been "dead wrong" on Iraq and has not shown how his policies on the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan would be different from those of the unpopular President George W. Bush.
The debate Thursday at Washington University was the most anticipated ever between two vice presidential candidates. Palin, governor of Alaska, initially electrified Republicans when nominated last month, but her weak performances in her few television interviews caused even some conservatives to doubt her readiness for national office.
Palin lacked the command of issues shown by Biden, a 35-year veteran of the Senate, but she was poised and coherent in responses to moderator Gwen Ifill - a contrast with the rambling answers in TV interviews. She appeared comfortable with a variety of international and domestic issues, often steering them to campaign talking points.
Biden also avoided potential pitfalls. Loquacious and gaffe-prone, Biden made it through the 90-minute debate without stumbling or talking himself into a corner. He also steered clear of attacks on Palin that might offend female voters - some of whom have been skeptical of Obama since his bitter primary fight against Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Biden and Palin each sought to claim the mantle as the person who best understood the problems of middle class America at a time of financial turmoil - and each claimed their own presidential candidate is the best qualified to reform Washington.
Palin repeatedly cast herself as a non-Washington politician and part of a "team of mavericks" ready to bring change to a country demanding it.
"Maverick he is not on the important, critical issues," Biden shot back, referring to McCain. And he said Obama was the true candidate of change.
With the Republican ticket falling in the polls at a time of financial turmoil, Palin was carrying a heavy burden. Vice presidential contenders usually do not affect US presidential races. But Palin has received added attention because McCain, at 72, would be the oldest first-term president and has had cancer, and she was initially credit with turning around his campaign.
More recently, though, she has drawn ridicule for some of her answers in interviews - including her claim that Alaska's proximity to Russia gives her an insight into foreign policy.
But after intense preparation - including two days at McCain's home in Arizona, Palin stood her ground against Biden - while maintaining her folksy mannerisms. She made only one obvious stumble during the debate, when she twice referred to the top US commander in Afghanistan as "Gen. McClellan." His name is David McKiernan.
The clash over Iraq was the most personal, and pointed. Palin has a son serving in Iraq; Biden's son will deploy there soon.
Palin charged Obama of voting against funding for US troops in combat and chastised Biden for defending the move, "especially with your son in the National Guard." She criticized Obama for opposing the increase in US troops in Iraq that is credited with helping reduce violence there.
Biden said McCain had "dead wrong" about Iraq from the beginning, and the United States was wasting $10 billion a month in that country while ignoring the real center of terrorism, Afghanistan and its mountainous shared border with Pakistan.
Palin also called Obama naive for saying he was willing to engage the leaders of Iran, North Korea and Cuba.
"That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous," Palin said.
The biggest issue in the country - a $700 billion financial industry rescue plan - generated few fireworks. McCain, Obama and Biden all voted for it Wednesday in the Senate.
But Biden blamed Republican party's handling of the country's economy over the eight years of Bush's administration, which he said would be continued by a McCain.
He also defended the Obama plan to raise taxes of Americans making more than $250,000 annually as a matter of "simple fairness," as Palin argued that Obama was promoting a "redistribution of wealth" that would result in fewer jobs and a reduction of tax revenues.
On the environment, Palin declined to attribute the cause of climate change to man-made activities alone. "There is something to be said also for man's activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet," she said, adding that she didn't want to argue about the causes.
Biden said the cause was clearly man-made, and added, "If you don't understand what the cause is, it's virtually impossible to come up with a solution."
The debate is the only one between the vice presidential candidates. McCain and Obama held their first debate last week. That debate dealt primarily with foreign affairs, seen as McCain's strength, but it did not reverse Obama's momentum.
In a further sign of McCain's troubles, his campaign on Thursday confirmed it was pulling staff out of Michigan, conceding a state he once hoped to win. That leaves McCain fewer opportunities to win over traditionally Democratic states, even as Obama targets traditionally Republican states. The US election is essentially a series of state-by-state, winner-take-all contests.
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