Effect Of Vice Presidential Candidates Weighed

The choice of a vice president has rarely affected the outcome of the presidential race. But for the past week, Sarah Palin has been the draw of the Republican ticket so much so that her Democratic opponents often seem flummoxed as to what to do with her.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Im Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And Im Robert Siegel. John McCain is catching up and in some surveys surpassing Barack Obama, that according to the latest polls, with about 50 days to go before the election. And tonight, ABC will more of Charlie Gibsons interview with Sarah Palin. The Alaska governors addition to the Republican ticket has transformed the presidential campaign.

BLOCK: This apparent shift in voter sentiment has unnerved some Democrats. They complain that Barack Obama has not been aggressive enough in combating Republican attacks and distortions of his record.

At a campaign stop in Dover, New Hampshire, today, Obama made clear hes aware of those concerns.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): Heres what I can guarantee you, that we are going to be hitting back hard. We have been hitting back hard, but were hitting back on the issues that matter to families.

BLOCK: John McCain was on the ABC show "The View" this morning, talking up, who else, Sarah Palin.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Candidate): Shes ignited a spark in America and sometimes different views, but the fact is its gotten people engaged and involved in the political process. Its good for America; shes good for America in my view.

SIEGEL: Well typically, presidential elections have been about the top of the ticket. NPRs Mara Liasson wonders if this year may be different.

MARA LIASSON: Sarah Palin could be the exception that proves the rule about running mates, that they rarely make a difference in the outcome of the race.

Mr.�JAMES CAMPBELL (State University of New York at Buffalo): We know that they dont matter and that they dont have a direct effect on the vote, at least we have no evidence that they have a direct effect.

LIASSON: Thats political scientist James Campbell from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Not since Lyndon Johnson brought his home state of Texas to the Kennedy ticket in 1960 has a vice-presidential candidate mattered. Campbell cites poorly received choices for vice president: Dan Quayle for instance, whose ticket won; those who performed well, Lloyd Bentsen in his famous debate with Quayle and still lost. But Campbell says running mates can have an impact.

Mr.�CAMPBELL: They have an indirect effect by changing how people may think of the presidential candidate.

LIASSON: And thats what Sarah Palin appears to have done for John McCain.

Sen. McCAIN: And when I say that Im so happy to be introduced to you by Governor Palin today, but I cant wait until I introduce her to Washington, D.C....

LIASSON: McCain has barely left Palins side since he picked her, and for good reason. Shes brought him a big jolt of excitement and celebrity and a boost in the polls.

There was once another vice-presidential pick, Geraldine Ferraro, who was also a big hit for the first few weeks but ran aground over questions about her family finances. And says Campbell, it remains to be seen how Palin will fare over time.

Mr.�CAMPBELL: And a lot of this is still unknown. Shes made a terrific first impression, I think certainly on Republicans, and I think also on swing voters. I mean, Democrats have been put off guard by this and in some cases have been very shrill in their attacks on her, which I think has also helped her.

LIASSON: One thing the Palin pick has done is to flummox the Obama campaign, which hasnt seemed quite sure how to deal with her. Heres Obamas chief strategist, David Axelrod, On Fox News Sunday.

Mr.�DAVID AXELROD (Chief Strategist for Senator Barack Obama): This ultimately isnt a race between us and Sarah Palin. Its a race between Barack Obama and John McCain. Theyre the candidates for president.

LIASSON: But if the idea was to avoid engaging Palin directly, Obama hasnt always followed the script. Here he is on CNN, contrasting his executive experience to hers, choosing to focus on her tenure as mayor.

Sen. OBAMA: Governor Palins town of Wasilla has, I think, 50 employees. Weve got 2,500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. You know, we have a budget of about three times that, just for the month. So I think that our ability to manage large systems and to execute, I think, has been made clear over the past couple of years.

LIASSON: The Obama camp also complains about the celebrity treatment Palin is getting: huge, adoring crowds and not enough media scrutiny, they say. Sounds like how Hillary Clintons campaign used to complain about Obama.

There is one member of the Obama team, however, who says he knows how to handle her, and hes the only one who will have to face her one on one, on October 2 in St.�Louis.

Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): Folks, its 2008. I - there are an awful lot of very, very, accomplished women holding high public office that I debate, and we beat up each other every day in the United States Senate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. BIDEN: Try debating Barbara Mikulski. Try debating, you know, try debating Barbara Boxer. Try debating Olympia Snow.

LIASSON: And then Biden said.

Sen. BIDEN: Are there pitfalls? Yeah, there are pitfalls. If two people with different genders or different races or different ethnicities debate one another, there are pitfalls. You worry about - you may say something, either person may say something that comes off the wrong way, but...

LIASSON: Sounds like Joe Biden is both confident and a little wary of his upcoming debate with Palin, who at least so far has done what few vice-presidential candidates have other done: shake up the race for president. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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