Palin faces huge challenge in VP debate

With the Republican ticket falling in the polls, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee and novice to national politics, carries a heavy burden Thursday when she debates Joe Biden, her Democratic opponent and 36-year veteran of the U.S. Senate, ap reported.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain took a huge gamble in choosing Palin, whose addition to the ticket initially mobilized the party's conservative base around his candidacy. In the meantime, however, her inexperience and provincial demeanor have become fodder for late-night television comedians.

Also, in the month since she stepped onto the national stage as the first female Republican vice presidential nominee, the 44-year-old Palin has proved uneven in solo news interviews, showing a lack of experience and breadth of knowledge normally expected in a candidate who would take over in the White House should the 72-year-old McCain win the election, then become incapacitated.

An Associated Press-Gfk poll released Wednesday found that just 25 percent of likely voters believe Palin has the right experience to be president. That is down from 41 percent just after the Republican convention, when the Alaska governor made her well-received national political debut. The same survey shows Democrat Barack Obama with a 48 percent to 41 percent lead in voter preference with less than five weeks remaining until Election Day, Nov. 4.

Palin is facing a man 21 years her elder and one of the Senate's foreign policy deans. Biden is loquacious and gaffe-prone, however, and had to fold his first presidential campaign in 1988 after appropriating to himself parts of the biography of British Labour Party leader at the time, Neil Kinnock. Biden, who must take special care not to condescend to Palin, has issued similar overstatements this year as well.

Public Broadcasting Service journalist Gwen Ifill is moderating the 90-minute debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Ifill, herself, has come under criticism from some conservatives because she is writing a book, "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama," on how politics have changed among black Americans since the civil rights era of the 1960s. The journalist says she has not yet written the chapter on Obama and questioned why critics assume it will be favorable toward the Democratic candidate, a first-term Illinois senator.

Palin has seemed poorly informed in the few interviews she has granted. In a CBS television News interview aired Wednesday she appeared unable to cite a U.S. Supreme Court decision with which she disagreed while saying many decisions had divided Americans. She likewise could not name magazines and newspapers that she reads.

She also has been widely lampooned for citing Alaska's proximity to Russia as an example of her foreign policy expertise. Palin has never visited Russia, and until last year she had never traveled outside North America.

McCain and other Republicans criticized such questions as "gotcha journalism," and he defended his running mate in appearances Thursday on several television talk shows.

He dismissed suggestions that he was upset with campaign staff for holding back Palin and not letting her be herself on the campaign trail.

"We let Sarah be Sarah. She's smart, she's tough, she's been in debates before," McCain told Fox television. "The American people ... the more they see of her, the more they love her, and I'm confident of that at the end."

McCain, meanwhile, abandoned efforts to win Michigan, a Great Lakes industrial state where he had thought he might win.

Republican officials with knowledge of the strategy said McCain was removing staff, curtailing advertising and canceling visits to the battleground state. Resources will be sent to Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and other competitive states.

Polls show support shifting rapidly to Obama since the first presidential debate on Sept. 26 in Mississippi. Although the candidates discussed the depth of their experience and their foreign policy preferences, it appeared that their comments on the faltering U.S. economy most influenced voters.

Both men, as well as Biden, returned to their Senate seats on Wednesday to cast votes in favor of the much-revised $700 billion Bush administration plan to rescue America's failing financial system. The measure, rejected Monday by the House of Representatives, was expected to go to the floor a second time, perhaps on Friday. The first House vote sent the stock market into a 778-point nose-dive, the largest one-day point drop in history.

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