Tonight’s VP debate is lose-lose for Democrats

Sadly an early start tomorrow means I won’t be live-blogging this evening but here are some pre-game thoughts.

For all the media hysteria over the Kate Couric interview, Democrats, not
Republicans, should be most worried about tonight’s Vice-Presidential debate.

The problem, from the Democrats perspective, is that expectations of Palin are too low. Ridiculously low. Impossibly low. There is almost no way that
Palin can fail to beat expectations, and even if she does it’s unlikely to
deliver a knock-out punch. It will simply confirm the current perception of
Palin which will leave McCain 5-6 points down, ie. where he is right now. 

Traditionally veep debates are worth 2 points in the polls at the most (according to Fivethirtyeight’s analysis), but because expectations of Palin’s performance are so low a good night for her could actually be worth more than that.

There are other reasons Democrats should be nervous ahead of the debate. For one thing, there’s a reason Joe Biden has a reputation for gaffes. Just look at this McCain ad for some examples. Any comment by Biden that sounds in any way patronising or misogynistic will be devoured with glee by Republicans afterwards. He’s also got to avoid saying anything stupid, full stop. Oh, and maybe best to avoid asking the moderator to stand after this.

There’s another factor that means this debate is tilted heavily against any kind of Biden boost. The Couric interview was so embarassing that she’s built up a fair bit of sympathy amongst some voters. Any perceived media sexism – in the GOP world read any media criticism/less than fawning praise – against Palin will further aid the Republican ticket.

In short: what’s the best the Democrats can hope for tonight? Voters being left with the perception Biden is an experienced, knowlegable statesman and Palin is dangerously, comically, tragically inexperienced perhaps? Trouble is, that’s already the popular view. For Palin the only way is up, and after a week spent furiously cramming, and a format designed to reduce the opportunities for candidates to be able to debate amongst each other,it will be pretty hard for her not to outperform these “ankle-high” expectations, and ‘win’ the debate.