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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

Joe Biden doesn’t need to do much in this debate. Everyone, Republicans included, knows the guy knows policy detail and foreign relations cold. He really doesn’t need to do much to prove he has mastery.

Normally, “time of possession” is a key signifier in football of which team is likeliest to win the game, but in this case the opposite seems true. Think of it — all anyone cares about in this debate is what Sarah Palin says.

The Republican base wants to hear her because they like her and identify with her — we’ve heard this chorus countless times on the road in McCain volunteer offices. She warms Republican base hearts. On the other hand, Democrats believe they’re about to witness an epic train wreck. So does the media. The expectations could not possibly be lower for this one.

For those who worry about expectations being so low that she can’t help but beat them, that she did well in Alaska debates (by being spunky and bluffing through with gimmicks like patting a “stack of solutions” on health care), consider this:

Capitol Hill sources are telling me that senior McCain people
are more than concerned about Palin.

The campaign has held a mock debate and a mock press conference; both are being described as “disastrous.” One senior McCain aide was quoted as saying, “What are we going to do?” The McCain people want to move this first debate to some later, undetermined date, possibly never. People on the inside are saying the Alaska Governor is “clueless.”

Some might be concerned that this is all about purposefully lowering expectations… and then you watch that Couric interview. That was not some gambit, that was real. If this is an elaborate expectations-setting ruse, I’m sure the multiple days of ridicule leading up to the debate aren’t worth it.

The inevitability of this is like when Nebraska used to run that option in the mid-90s with Tommie Frazier at QB. You knew exactly what play was coming… and you couldn’t stop it.

Only Joe Biden can mess it up… by running up his own time of possession.

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