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Palin, Biden fight over war on terror

world Updated: Oct 03, 2008 16:06 IST

DPA
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Rival US vice presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden clashed over the centrality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during a fast-paced debate, in which both reached out to middle-class Americans and touted their own running mate as best able to bring about change for the country.

During Thursday's highly anticipated debate barely one month before the Nov 4 general election, Biden and Palin wrestled over the idea that they could feel the pain of ordinary Americans during a serious economic crisis and stressed their own working-class roots.

Palin, a one-term governor of Alaska, said she had been picked by Republican nominee John McCain for her "connection to the heartland of America." She attacked the unpopular President George W. Bush for a series of "blunders" and promised that "change is coming" with a McCain administration.

Biden said McCain had not differed from Bush on a "single major initiative" and was on the wrong side of "important, critical issues that affect people at the kitchen table." His own running mate, Democratic nominee Barack Obama, would bring about the "fundamental change" needed.

The stakes were high for Biden and Palin to demonstrate both their own competence and to tout the best qualities of their running mates as they faced off for the only time in this election campaign.

But the focus in the run-up to the debate had been squarely on 44-year-old Palin. She faced questions over her lack of experience and had lost some of the initial excitement since being catapulted onto the national scene barely one month ago by McCain, who at 72 would be the oldest president elected to a first term.

By contrast, Biden, 65, a two-time former presidential candidate and Delaware senator for 36 years, was a well-known quantity when he was tapped in August as Obama's running mate. His major pitfall was a well-known tendency for political gaffes.

Palin held her own as neither candidate made any major mistakes during a quick fire 90-minute debate that touched on the economy, health care, foreign policy and who can best bring the country back together and change the "tone" of Washington.

With a financial crisis threatening to bring down the world's largest economy and a $700-billion rescue package possibly to be voted on by the House of Representatives on Friday, the two candidates battled over which side saw this massive crisis coming.

Palin pointed to McCain's comments two years ago criticizing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are now under government control. She criticized Wall Street greed and the "deception" of predatory lenders.

Biden said the crisis was evidence that Bush had promoted "the worst economic policies we've ever had." Obama had predicted that subprime mortgages variable rate loans to people with poor credit - might cause trouble, he said.

On foreign policy, Palin and Biden disagreed over whether Iraq or Afghanistan was the "central front" in the US war against terrorism.

Biden guaranteed that if there was another terrorist attack on US soil, it would come from Al Qaeda remnants on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Palin pointed to comments from Al Qaeda's leadership that Iraq was the key battlefront.

The two also disagreed sharply over when and how to pull troops out of Iraq.

"We will end this war. For John McCain there is no end in sight," Biden said, arguing the need for a strict timetable.

"Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq," Palin retorted, saying the president must listen to commanders on the ground.

Some 3,100 journalists were accredited to cover the debate at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri, and the event was broadcast by all major US television networks.

Opinions polls have swung in favour of Obama in recent weeks as a financial crisis shifted the focus of the race to economic issues, Obama's stronger suit, and away from McCain's strength of national security. Obama and McCain squared off in their first debate last week and will go for a second round next week.

Both Palin and Biden were forced to square their own political perspectives with those of their running mates.

Biden had to answer critics that argue his Washington background does not sit well with the 47-year-old Obama's message of change. He pointed to his own record of promoting change during his time in the senate.

Palin had to answer for some conservative beliefs, such as a skepticism of the man-made causes of global warming, that do not square with McCain's own views. She argued in the debate that the focus should be on the "effects" of global warming rather than its "causes."

The other factor hovering over the debate was that of gender. Palin would be the first ever female vice president. Biden was warned by pundits against appearing overly aggressive or condescending but showed neither during the 90-minute debate.