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Looking ahead to Thursday’s vice presidential debate, I’m
going to differ with my colleague Paul Gullixson who says both candidates lost the
first presidential debate. I don’t think either candidate “won,” but Barack
Obama passed a significant test. He spoke credibly on foreign policy, which is clearly John McCain’s best issue. He wasn’t
the one who botched the names of foreign leaders, and he scored points with his
jibe that McCain speaks as if the Iraq war started in 2007 with the
surge rather than in 2003. What does Obama get for passing the test? More time
to talk to conservative Democrats and independents who might have been lost if
he performed badly. These are the voters who will decide the election. And he still needs to make that sale.

What does that have to do with Thursday’s debate in St. Louis?

Sarah Palin faces a similar test. She must show a better
grasp of national issues than she did in her interview last week on the CBS
Evening News. Her answers need to be more sophisticated than, “I’m all about
the position that America
is in and that we have to look at a $700 billion bailout.” As with Obama, the
bar isn’t terribly high. But she needs to clear it if her early personal appeal
is going to translate into traction with those same voters in the middle. A
poor performance might even hurt her on the Republican right, where some
commentators already have suggested replacing her on the ticket.

— Jim Sweeney