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Professors preview vice presidential debate

Amanda Gray | Thursday, October 2, 2008

Less than a week after presidential candidates Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain faced off for their first debate, their running mates will argue tonight which ticket has the strongest policies.

Sen. Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, and Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, will answer questions tonight from moderator Gwen Ifill, the managing editor and moderator for “Washington Week” and a senior correspondent for “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.”

Some Notre Dame political science professors expect economic policy and the financial recovery plan, as well as the war in Iraq, to be major topics in tonight’s debate.

Biden, a senator from Delaware, has been involved with politics on a national level since 1972. Palin, the governor of Alaska, began her term in 2006. The debate could pose different challenges for the two candidates, the professors said.

“Biden is a smart and experienced senator with loads of foreign policy and domestic policy experience, but he is also prone to verbal gaffes,” political science professor Peri Arnold said. “I suggest that one might watch for Biden’s inability to self-censor.”

Palin, who lacks the extensive experience of Biden, will face different challenges in the debate.

“Gov. Palin may be given an opportunity to clarify or make-up for issues that appeared to give her problems in previous interviews,” political science professor Darren Davis said.

McCain’s choice of Palin to be his vice president was unexpected, some Notre Dame professors interviewed said.

“Palin was a choice that was out of the blue by McCain and carried with it subsequent risks based in her lack of national experience and lack of experience dealing with the intensity of a national campaign,” Arnold said.

Davis agreed on the point of Palin’s inexperience.

“In terms of knowledgeability of the issues, prior experience, media savviness, and credibility, Senator Biden is strongest,” Davis said.

Political science professor Joshua Kaplan said McCain’s pick has been criticized because it counteracted his “message about the importance of experience which he had emphasized.”

The selection of Biden was “a safe pick for Obama,” Arnold said.

“It is understandable why Obama chose Biden,” Davis said. “However, if Obama had chosen Senator [Hillary] Clinton, I think his chances of winning would be a lot higher.”

All the professors stressed their belief that this election is crucial.

“This election is extremely important, especially for young adults,” Davis said. “Don’t be arm-chair consumers of politics. Become informed and participate in the process.”

The vice presidential debate will be held tonight at Washington University in St. Louis. It will begin at 9 p.m. EST.

ND Votes ’08, a non-partisan campaign of the Center for Social Concerns, will hold a debate watch followed by commentary from members of the Notre Dame Debate Team in the Coleman-Morse Lounge from 9 p.m. to 11.