Grading Palin's TV Appearance

Sarah Palin and shifting polls are all the talk on the political front. The presidential campaign is kicking into high gear as the Nov. 4 election draws closer. John McCain running mate Palin was interviewed this week by ABC's Charles Gibson.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The excitement about Sarah Palin, her appeal to conservatives, her interview last night with ABC News and the shifting polls are the big campaign stories these days. Our political brain trust is standing by to provide some analysis. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson and political editor Ken Rudin, good morning to both of you.

KEN RUDIN: Good morning, Renee.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, Mara, if I may start with you. Conventional wisdom has it that people don't vote on running mates; they vote for the top of the ticket. But from what we've just heard from Don and from other stories, it looks like Sarah Palin may just well turn that on its head.

LIASSON: She may be the exception that proves the rule. At least for now, she is energizing the base. As you've just heard, she has boosted John McCain's support with white women. She's energized him. He hasn't been apart from her very much for the whole week and the campaign says they may continue to campaign together, that's why he's getting those big crowds; he wouldn't get them by himself.

And the other effect she's had is to flummox the famously unflappable Obama campaign, who has been unsure of how to deal with her and has tried a whole bunch of different approaches - some of them have been more successful than others. And as a matter of fact today, the McCain campaign just released an ad called "Disrespectful" where it catalogued all of the false or sexist or awful things that Democrats and Obama supporters have said about Sarah Palin.

MONTAGNE: Ken, let's talk about the polls. How much of McCain's better numbers are thanks to Palin?

KEN RUDIN: Well, it seems to be the case. The national numbers have certainly moved in his direction since the Republican convention, and did - which is really just over a week ago, which is kind of surprising. There's a new Quinnipiac poll. Even in the states - McCain has opened up a 50 to 43 lead in Florida, Obama's lead in Pennsylvania has narrowed; there's also signs in Michigan that that has narrowed as well, Pennsylvania and Michigan, two long-time Democratic states. But also it seems like Obama has pulled out a little ahead in Ohio. I think as it stands now, I think Obama is still closer to 270 electoral votes than McCain, but there's clearly movement in McCain's direction.

MONTAGNE: Now, Sarah Palin has been all over the place, but in a way kept under wraps by the campaign itself. She did her first big news interview as McCain's running mate yesterday. It was a sit-down with ABC's Charles Gibson. It - what did you make of it?

RUDIN: She's certainly not lacking in any self-confidence. She didn't do anything that would hurt her cause or the McCain ticket. She was asked about her views about launching incursions into Pakistan without the support of the Pakistani government, and she supported that. Well, that's U.S. policy. I don't think she broke with the Bush administration on anything like that. She talked about Alaska's proximity to Russia. I don't really think that's a big foreign policy credential on her part. At one point she was asked would the U.S. back Israel if Israel attacked Iranian nuclear facilities. I was surprised she didn't dismiss it as a hypothetical. Hillary Clinton was always very good at not answering questions by dismissing it as hypotheticals. She said that Israel is an ally and we would go along with what Israel wished. I was surprised she didn't finesse that question a little better.

MONTAGNE: And Mara?

LIASSON: Well, you know, I think overall she didn't make any huge mistakes. She certainly didn't implode. She wasn't fluent in foreign policy or terrifically fluent, but she shows that she's a quick study because she's been boning up on this intensively over the last week. We have to wait to see what more there is tonight on "20/20," if they'll be answers to a whole lot of domestic policy issues that she talk about last night. But I think the big test is what did voters think when they saw her, and my gut feeling is it probably hasn't changed her image.

MONTAGNE: And sticking with you, Mara, there's been talk about John McCain's once-famous straight talk express taking a detour; Palin's claims to oppose the Bridge - I'm sorry - to Nowhere when the fact indicates she initially supported it. Can you give us some other examples?

LIASSON: Well, there's a lot of examples. Obviously the Bridge to Nowhere is a big one. She was for it before she was against it and she was against it when it really didn't matter anymore. The McCain campaign is running an ad about attacking Barack Obama's education record, saying that he was for comprehensive sex education for kindergartners. Fact check features in newspapers have called that dishonest and deceptive. And then of course there's the charge that when he said putting lipstick on a pig he was referring to Sarah Palin, which seems to not to be supported by the evidence.

But you know, this might not be straight talk, but just like those celebrity ads with Paris Hilton that the McCain campaign ran earlier, it seems to work, and I think winning is important whether you win pretty or win ugly and that seems to be the strategy that the McCain campaign is following.

MONTAGNE: Ken, Mara, thank you both.

RUDIN: Thanks, Renee.

LIASSON: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Mara Liasson is NPR's national political correspondent. Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. You can read his new Political Junkie column at npr.org/politicaljunkie. And you are listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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