Andrew Halcro: What it's like to debate Sarah Palin

Discussion in 'Political Zone' started by WoodysGirl, Oct 1, 2008.

  1. WoodysGirl

    WoodysGirl Need A Win...By any means necessary Staff Member

    70,950 Messages
    12,937 Likes Received
    By Andrew Halcro
    Wed Oct 1, 4:00 AM ET

    Anchorage, Alaska - When he faces off against Sarah Palin Thursday night, Joe Biden will have his hands full.


    I should know. I've debated Governor Palin more than two dozen times. And she's a master, not of facts, figures, or insightful policy recommendations, but at the fine art of the nonanswer, the glittering generality. Against such charms there is little Senator Biden, or anyone, can do.

    On paper, of course, the debate appears to be a mismatch.

    In 2000, Palin was the mayor of an Alaskan town of 5,500 people, while Biden was serving his 28th year as a United States senator. Her major public policy concern was building a local ice rink and sports center. His major public policy concern was the State Department's decision to grant an export license to allow sales of heavy-lift helicopters to Turkey, during tense UN-sponsored Cyprus peace talks.

    On paper, the difference in experience on both domestic and foreign policy is like the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing a bullet. Unfortunately for Biden, if recent history is an indicator, experience or a grasp of the issues won't matter when it comes to debating Palin.

    On April 17, 2006, Palin and I participated in a debate at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks on agriculture issues. The next day, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner published this excerpt:

    "Andrew Halcro, a declared independent candidate from Anchorage, came armed with statistics on agricultural productivity. Sarah Palin, a Republican from Wasilla, said the Matanuska Valley provides a positive example for other communities interested in agriculture to study."

    On April 18, 2006, Palin and I sat together in a hotel coffee shop comparing campaign trail notes. As we talked about the debates, Palin made a comment that highlights the phenomenon that Biden is up against.

    "Andrew, I watch you at these debates with no notes, no papers, and yet when asked questions, you spout off facts, figures, and policies, and I'm amazed. But then I look out into the audience and I ask myself, 'Does any of this really matter?' " Palin said.

    While policy wonks such as Biden might cringe, it seemed to me that Palin was simply vocalizing her strength without realizing it. During the campaign, Palin's knowledge on public policy issues never matured – because it didn't have to. Her ability to fill the debate halls with her presence and her gift of the glittering generality made it possible for her to rely on populism instead of policy.

    Palin is a master of the nonanswer. She can turn a 60-second response to a query about her specific solutions to healthcare challenges into a folksy story about how she's met people on the campaign trail who face healthcare challenges. All without uttering a word about her public-policy solutions to healthcare challenges.

    In one debate, a moderator asked the candidates to name a bill the legislature had recently passed that we didn't like. I named one. Democratic candidate Tony Knowles named one. But Sarah Palin instead used her allotted time to criticize the incumbent governor, Frank Murkowski. Asked to name a bill we did like, the same pattern emerged: Palin didn't name a bill.

    And when she does answer the actual question asked, she has a canny ability to connect with the audience on a personal level. For example, asked to name a major issue that had been ignored during the campaign, I discussed the health of local communities, Mr. Knowles talked about affordable healthcare, and Palin talked about ... the need to protect hunting and fishing rights.

    So what does that mean for Biden? With shorter question-and-answer times and limited interaction between the two, he should simply ignore Palin in a respectful manner on the stage and answer the questions as though he were alone. Any attempt to flex his public-policy knowledge and show Palin is not ready for prime time will inevitably cast him in the role of the bully.

    On the other side of the stage, if Palin is to be successful, she needs to do what she does best: fill the room with her presence and stick to the scripted sound bites.

    • Andrew Halcro served two terms as a Republican member of the Alaska State House of Representatives. He ran for governor as an Independent in 2006, debating Sarah Palin more than two dozen times. He blogs at .
  2. theebs

    theebs Believe!!!!

    22,213 Messages
    1,270 Likes Received
  3. BrAinPaiNt

    BrAinPaiNt Winter is Coming Staff Member

    64,605 Messages
    8,861 Likes Received
    I hope biden does not have his hand full, this debate could turn into a sexual harassment suit.
  4. Danny White

    Danny White Winter is Coming

    12,351 Messages
    4 Likes Received
    Sounds like someone's bitter that he got his arse handed to him by Palin's glittering generalities. :laugh2:
  5. Cajuncowboy

    Cajuncowboy Preacher From The Black Lagoon

    27,476 Messages
    3 Likes Received
    I knew this would be a hit piece when I saw who posted it. :rolleyes:
  6. Cajuncowboy

    Cajuncowboy Preacher From The Black Lagoon

    27,476 Messages
    3 Likes Received
    Yeah, no kidding. Obviously his masterful grasp on facts got him far.
  7. WoodysGirl

    WoodysGirl Need A Win...By any means necessary Staff Member

    70,950 Messages
    12,937 Likes Received
    What do you mean? I thought it was a solid enough piece as it pertains to her debate style.
  8. WoodysGirl

    WoodysGirl Need A Win...By any means necessary Staff Member

    70,950 Messages
    12,937 Likes Received
    On small stage, Palin scored big debate wins
    Alexander Burns
    Wed Oct 1, 5:51 AM ET

    After delivering halting, unsteady performances in recent interviews with ABC's Charlie Gibson and CBS's Katie Couric, expectations are low for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in Thursday's vice presidential debate in St. Louis.


    Yet a review of Palin's experience during her 2006 campaign for governor, when she engaged in a long series of debates with her opponents, suggests she is a more formidable adversary than is widely thought.

    Unlike her opponent Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, who has considerable presidential-level debate experience, Palin has never been involved in a debate where the questions were national and global in scope.

    But she is familiar operating in a high-stakes debate environment against older, more seasoned pols who seemingly have better command of the issues.

    In 2006, with no experience as a statewide officeholder, Palin ran what amounted to a debate gauntlet, beginning in the Republican primary against incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski and former state Sen. John Binkley, and then in the general election, against former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles and former state Rep. Andrew Halcro, an independent.

    Against that experienced opposition, Palin proved herself to be a comfortable and confident debater, not exactly deeply versed in the issues but unusually adept at dodging controversy and quick to take advantage of opponents' missteps. Not one to throw an unnecessary punch, Palin took a patient approach, waiting for her rivals to expose their weak points - and then striking fast.

    "Anyone who watches any of her previous debates would be impressed by her debating skills," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Saturday, in an attempt to raise expectations for Palin's performance. "She has performed very, very well."

    Perhaps the best illustration of her style came on August 8, 2006, during a primary election debate featuring the unpopular incumbent Murkowski, himself a veteran of more than two decades in the U.S. Senate, and Binkley. Palin, by then the GOP frontrunner, kept a wary distance from her rivals, who bickered bitterly.

    When Murkowski, taking a caustic tone against his much younger opponents, charged that Binkley did not understand an issue related to fuel company taxation, Binkley replied, "I understand it perfectly." Murkowski shot back angrily: "No, you don't."

    Palin, rather than join in the exchange, sat back until her opponents' anger reached a boiling point, and then, with a voice just slightly raised, chimed in: "You know, you guys, we owe Alaskans a better discourse than this."

    "Respect to our listeners and our viewers," she continued, "I think we need to speak respectfully and orderly here."

    In a single deft blow, Palin made the older men look childish. And she did it calmly, with an upbeat tone of voice.

    Palin used a similar rhetorical method earlier in the debate, responding to Binkley's attacks on her brief career in government by telling the veteran legislator: "I'm sure you did a good job back there in the '80s, early '90s."

    From her cheerful tone, a listener might have thought Palin was complimenting her opponent - if not for the slightly dismissive edge that crept into her voice as she mentioned Binkley's past experience, as if she were describing an episode in ancient history.

    In the general election, Palin employed the same debating style, keeping out of fights between Knowles, the former two-term Democratic governor, and Halcro, and jumping in only when the political terrain seemed favorable.

    In a November 2 debate, immediately before the general election, Palin laughed off a particularly acrimonious exchange between her two opponents, joking: "I'm just glad I'm sitting here in between 'em to make sure it doesn't get out of hand."

    When offered the opportunity to jab or trivialize her rivals, she took it. Asked whether she would find a place in her administration for Knowles, a former businessman and restaurateur, Palin quipped: "Do they need a chef down there in Juneau? I know that is what he enjoys."

    In this debate, Palin revealed a glimpse into her vice presidential campaign's antagonistic relationship with the media, gently needling one moderator, who had once worked in Knowles's administration, by referring to the two-term governor as "your old boss."

    Just as damaging for her opponents as Palin's stiletto-with-a-smile approach was her apparent ability to deflect every attack launched her way. When the subject of her relative inexperience came up in the August 8 debate, Palin seemed bemused that her opponents would even raise the subject, smiling as the moderator noted that Binkley had tried to coax her into running for lieutenant governor on his ticket.

    Binkley, not sensing the risk of looking condescending, jumped in with a hamfisted note: "She would have been a great lieutenant governor."

    Palin's conservative stances on social issues were irresistible to some of her foes, but her performance in an October 4, 2006, forum organized by the group Alaska Conservation Voters suggests she is not only comfortable discussing them but adroit at turning the tables.

    At the largely nonconfrontational event, the temperature raised a bit when Halcro pointedly quizzed Palin about her position on abortion, implying that her stance on the issue put her at odds with the Alaska constitution.

    Even as the audience applauded, apparently in sympathy with Halcro, Palin took the microphone and, without missing a beat, told listeners that "abortion, a sensitive, private issue [was] being used to divide and politicize."

    "You know, there are conservation issues that we were going to be talking about today," Palin said, adding with an almost lethal friendliness: "Andrew, bless your heart, you know my position on abortion. I'm pro-life."

    In the November 2 debate with Knowles and Halcro, Palin responded just as effectively to aggressive questioning on the same subject. When a moderator pressed her to respond to provocative hypothetical questions involving pregnancies in her own family, Palin, smiling, said: "Again, I would choose life, and certainly I'm quite confident here you're going to be asking my opponents these same scenarios."

    Still, for all her success on Alaska's small stage, her contest with Biden will be different than any other debate the governor has participated in, and not just because of the size of the television audience.

    In a one-on-one debate with Biden, Palin will not be able to position herself above the fray, as she did so effectively in the gubernatorial campaign. She'll have to confront Biden much more directly, and the Delaware senator may not be as easy to bait as her dyspeptic primary opponents.

    Indeed, Biden appears to be expecting exactly that kind of approach from Palin, saying in Chicago last month: "She's going to take a lot of straight lefts and jabs at me, she's going to try to get me to respond, she's going to try to get me to respond in a personal way."

    Palin framed it differently in her interview with CBS.

    "He's got a tremendous amount of experience and, you know, I'm the new energy, the new face, the new ideas and he's got the experience based on many many years in the Senate and voters are gonna have a choice there of what it is that they want in these next four years," she said.

    Palin certainly will be operating Thursday from a different strategic position than that to which she is accustomed.

    In her debates with Knowles and Halcro, Palin simply had to maintain a firm and authoritative public image. She didn't have to prove anything since she had already met a threshold of competence to emerge as the frontrunner.

    But after her unimpressive round of recent television interviews, performances that raised serious questions about her grasp of the issues and competence to hold high office, Palin has a much higher bar to meet.

    She will have to work hard to show more familiarity with domestic policy, especially after displaying an apparent lack of fluency with economic issues. In her Alaska debates, Palin frequently retreated to noncommittal pronouncements and personal stories when confronted with difficult policy questions, but those tactics may not be as effective on the national stage.

    Either way, the Obama-Biden campaign is at least outwardly approaching the debate with a healthy dose of caution.

    "She's spending a whole lot of time - hours and hours a day, apparently - preparing for this debate," Plouffe said last weekend. "And we suspect that she'll come in fighting form."

    REDVOLUTION Return to Dominance

    30,580 Messages
    3,621 Likes Received
    I actually think that that is part of her problem.

    She is not a typical politician with typical politican answers but McCain's camp is training her to atleast respond that way... and it doesnt work for her.

    She is not typical(politician) by any means.
  10. Cajuncowboy

    Cajuncowboy Preacher From The Black Lagoon

    27,476 Messages
    3 Likes Received
    And she's a master, not of facts, figures, or insightful policy recommendations, but at the fine art of the nonanswer, the glittering generality.

    A simple statement like that cheapens her in this article. It makes her sound as if she knows nothing, is only good at being evasive.

    As DW said, sounds like someone who is bitter.

    EDIT: BTW, I meant to say "Who wrote it" and not "Who posted it." Sorry about that WG.
  11. Doomsday101

    Doomsday101 Well-Known Member

    84,316 Messages
    7,234 Likes Received
    Well sounds like someone who lost the election. :lmao:
  12. WoodysGirl

    WoodysGirl Need A Win...By any means necessary Staff Member

    70,950 Messages
    12,937 Likes Received
    Oh ok. I asked myself, "what'd I do now?"

    His article was insightful to me in that it gave me an idea of what to expect from her in the debate. She's still an unknown, so regardless of "perceived" slights in the article, it was a good read to me. I used my BS filter.
  13. Cajuncowboy

    Cajuncowboy Preacher From The Black Lagoon

    27,476 Messages
    3 Likes Received
    We'll know about this on Friday morning when me and the other conservatives come on here and say how good she did and the left coms on here and say how bad she did.

    In the end, unless she pulls her pants down and takes a crap on the floor, I doubt she will be seen as the loser.

    Though that may play big with the perv patrol on here. :D

    ABQCOWBOY Moderator Staff Member

    38,558 Messages
    3,995 Likes Received

    :laugh2: Had to laugh at that one.
  15. trickblue

    trickblue Old Testament...

    29,904 Messages
    961 Likes Received
    FTFY... :D
  16. Cajuncowboy

    Cajuncowboy Preacher From The Black Lagoon

    27,476 Messages
    3 Likes Received
    Hey, whatever it takes. I'm setting my TIVO just in case.

    God I love that invention. :bow:

    ABQCOWBOY Moderator Staff Member

    38,558 Messages
    3,995 Likes Received

    "You know, it just hit me. She outranks you Danny!

    I want to tell you something. Listen well.

    There is nothing on this earth sexier, and I mean this, than a woman you have to salute in the morning.

    If you haven't gotten a **** - *** from a superior officer, well, you're just letting the best in life pass you by.

    'Course, my problem is, I'm a colonel, so I guess I'll just have to keep taking cold showers until one of you gals is elected president."

    :laugh2: at TrickyB.........

  18. trickblue

    trickblue Old Testament...

    29,904 Messages
    961 Likes Received

    Palin Proved to Be Formidable Foe in Alaska Debates

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska --
    There are two things people here remember about Sarah Palin's debating style during her race for governor two years ago.

    One is the stack of color-coded cue cards she took to the podium for help whenever she was asked a policy question. The other is how quickly she was able to shuck those props, master the thrust-and-parry of jousting with her opponents and inquisitors, and project confidence to an audience of television viewers watching from home.

    "That's the Sarah Palin I remember from the 2006 debates: positive, confident and upbeat," recalls Libby Casey, an Alaska public-radio reporter who served as a debate moderator on two occasions that year.

    That's a contrast from the image projected by Gov. Palin in recent TV interviews in which she has seemed shaky on basic facts -- performances that have made even many of her fellow Republicans nervous about the vice-presidential debate scheduled for Thursday. Her Democratic opponent, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, is a veteran of three decades of congressional deliberations, as well as two rounds of presidential-nominating contests with their own sets of debates. And it may take more than style points to reassure viewers rattled by relentless news this week of economic dislocation.

    Despite Gov. Palin's recent travails, Democrats seem to be raising expectations for her performance. "We've looked at tapes of Gov. Palin's debates, and she's a terrific debater," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters Saturday. "She's obviously a skilled speaker. We expect she'll give a great performance next Thursday."

    Gov. Palin herself engaged in a little pre-debate spin on Monday, telling reporters "I've been hearing his speeches since I was in the second grade." The remark suggested she would be a decided underdog against Sen. Biden, while underscoring the McCain campaign's message that it represents a newer, better alternative to the Democratic ticket.

    She was a sensation as a candidate for governor two years ago, excelling in about a dozen debates during a primary bid against a sitting governor and later in the general election against a former governor attempting a comeback. In both rounds of voting, she was in a three-way race, the only woman running against two older men. A newcomer, she radiated "change" -- and stood out with trademark attire, such as a chic scarlet blazer that became almost her debate uniform.

    "Sarah stayed above the fray," says Christopher Clark, the moderator for one forum hosted during the primary by Juneau's KTOO-TV. Mr. Clark -- who went on to work for Gov. Palin, was later dismissed and now is a legislative aide for the Alaska House speaker -- recalls the early primary debates, when incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski treated John Binkley, a former state legislator and chairman of the Alaska Railroad Corp., as the more important opponent.

    "Binkley and Murkowski went after each other, almost ignoring her, bickering back and forth," Mr. Clark remembers. Finally, he continues, "Ms. Palin interrupted and said 'Don't Alaskans deserve a better discourse than that?' It became the defining moment of the campaign."

    In the general election, she faced off against a former governor, Tony Knowles, and former state legislator Andrew Halcro. In most encounters, her métier was projecting winsomeness -- making a virtue of not knowing as much about the minutiae of state government because, for most of her adulthood, she was immersed in small-town life and raising a family.

    The candidates she squared off against, and the reporters who posed questions in several debates, recall that she related high gas prices to the difficulties her family had buying a car. She explained that she was in tune with environmentalists because she named a daughter, Bristol, for Alaska's Bristol Bay. She demonstrated her affinity for Native American culture by citing the teachings of her husband's Yu'pik Eskimo grandparent.

    The other candidates scowled and sighed over her inability, in one exchange, to identify a single bill passed by the legislature that she either approved or disapproved of. She ignored their frustration.

    Then, in one of the evening's final questions, she deftly turned the tables on the two men.

    Asked what jobs she might have in her administration for either opposing candidate, she chuckled that former Gov. Knowles could be her official chef, while Mr. Halcro would be Alaska's top statistician.

    "It was a witty answer, and funny," recalls Larry Persily, the Anchorage Daily News editor who posed the question at a debate broadcast on the state's public television network. "But it was also a put-down. Everyone knows Tony used to own a restaurant called Downtown Deli, and she was suggesting he should go back to running a lunch counter. With Andrew, she was saying, basically, 'Gee, all your facts and numbers are nice, but the voters just don't care.'"

    Two years later, both men concede that they may have underestimated Gov. Palin's ease during the debates, or how disciplined she could be in staying on message. Today Mr. Knowles calls her "extraordinary, elusive and unavailable to the public."

    Nonetheless, he says, "She is an attractive candidate with a unique ability to emotionally connect with the audience," even as "she deals with issues by repetitive slogans."

    Repeating a stump speech is harder in a nationally televised debate, though, when moderators such as Thursday night's Gwen Ifill of PBS are likely to bore in and demand fuller explanations. Any apparent unfamiliarity with a topic also will prove problematic, and a glaring factual mistake will be difficult to overcome.

    But Gov. Palin's telegenic gifts could help neutralize some shortcomings. Ms. Casey, the public-radio reporter, credits Gov. Palin's training as a TV sportscaster for her ability to connect with a broadcast audience at home.

    In her debates during the 2006 campaign, Ms. Palin would often thank the reporters serving as debate moderators -- invariably addressing them by their first names, and adding a compliment for their insightful questions. She would then turn immediately to the camera to speak directly to a home audience.

    "Like a sportscaster, she's learned to be good at dropping the g's, and relating to the viewer as a fan," Ms. Casey explains. "You know: 'It's a big game this weekend and it's gonna be tough. But we're all in this together.'"

Share This Page