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Style and substance at stake for Biden, Palin

world Updated: Sep 30, 2008 00:51 IST
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One talks too much. The other has not talked enough. For voters, Thursday’s vice presidential debate promises a transfixing match between the loquacious veteran Democratic Senator Joe Biden and the still-underexposed Republican Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

For the campaigns, the encounter in St Louis represents a potential nerve-racking moment: The free-wheeling Biden vs. the tightly managed Palin in a test of knowledge, fluency and grace before millions of TV viewers.

Vice presidential candidates seldom decide elections; people vote for who’s at the top of the ticket. But in a contest as close as this one between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, a misstep could set back either campaign in the final weeks before Election Day on November 4.

What’s more, both Biden, the Democrat, and Palin, the Republican, have become Obama’s and McCain’s ambassadors to independent voters, but each with different tasks: Biden to reassure them about Obama, and Palin to reassure them about herself. And while the stakes may not be as high as they were in Friday’s presidential debate, the running mates face more land mines than Obama and McCain did.

Since Palin roused the Republican Party at its national convention earlier this month, she has been undergoing a crash course in foreign policy.

Still, Biden, who twice has run unsuccessfully for president, perhaps faces the greater challenge. He has years of foreign policy experience and an affinity for extemporaneous speech that can cause him trouble. And he already has strayed from campaign talking points and mangled history during his own interview with Couric.

Palin and Biden will be questioned by Gwen Ifill, senior correspondent on the Public Broadcasting Service’s “The NewsHour” and moderator of “Washington Week.” Under the format, each candidate will have 90 seconds to respond to a question, followed by a two-minute discussion. That is tighter than Friday’s presidential encounter, when the candidates had up to five minutes to mix it up. The shorter discussion period should favour Palin.