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Dissecting the Vice Presidential Candidates' Debate

Aired October 5, 2008 - 21:00   ET


The first and only vice presidential debate of campaign '08 is history and you can bet people are talking about it. I'm John King in New York in the CNN election center. We'll be talking about it, too, with the best political team on television. We'll map out where the race stands, heading into the final month. We'll also look ahead to Tuesday night's second presidential debate.

But we'll spend the lion's share of this program listening, listening to the best moments of the VP debate in St. Louis so you can make up your own mind about how Sarah Palin and Joe Biden answered the question. And they were key questions at a pivotal moment for the candidates and for the country. There were, of course, questions going in about Sarah Palin's grasp of the issues. Some concerns as well about how Joe Biden would deal with a female opponent, not to mention his traditional adversary, the clock. Like many senator, he likes to talk. It didn't take long though for most of the stylistic stuff to fall away as each got down to business about the economy and taxes. Listen.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can speak in agreement here that darn right we need tax relief for Americans so that jobs can be created here and Barack Obama and Senator Biden also voted for the largest tax increases in U.S. history. Barack had 94 opportunities to side on the people's side and reduce taxes and 94 times, he voted to increase taxes or not support a tax reduction. 94 times.

Now, that's not what we need to create jobs and really bolster and heat up our economy. We do need the private sector to be able to keep more of what we earn and produce. Government's going to have to learn to be more efficient and live with less if that's what it takes to reign in the government growth that we've seen today. But we do need tax relief and Barack Obama even supported increasing taxes as late as last year for those families making only $42,000 a year. That's a lot of middle income average American families, to increase taxes on them, I think that is a way to kill jobs and to continue to harm our economy.


SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The charge is absolutely not true. Barack Obama did not vote to raise taxes. The vote she's referring to, John McCain voted the exact same way. It was a budget procedural vote. John McCain voted the same way. It did not raise taxes. Number two, using the standard that the governor uses, John McCain voted 477 times to raise taxes. It's a bogus standard. But if you notice, Gwen, the governor did not answer the question about deregulation, did not answer the question about defending John McCain about not going along with the deregulation, letting Wall Street run wild. He did support deregulation almost across the board. That's why we got into so much trouble.

IFILL: Would you like to have an opportunity to answer that before we go on?

PALIN: I'm still on the tax thing because I want to correct you on that again. And I want to let you know what I did as a mayor and as a governor and I may not answer the questions the way that you or the moderator want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record, also.

As mayor, every year I was in office, I did reduce taxes. I eliminated personal property taxes and eliminated small business inventory taxes. And as governor, we suspended our state fuel tax. We did all those things knowing that that is how our economy would be heated up. Now, as for John McCain's adherence to rules and regulations and pushing for even harder and tougher regulations, that is another thing that he is known for, though. Look at the tobacco industry. Look at campaign finance reform.

IFILL: OK. Our time is up here. I'm going to move on to the next question. Senator Biden, you want to talk about taxes. Let's talk about taxes.

BIDEN: Good.

IFILL: You have proposed raising taxes on people who earn over $250,000 a year. The question for you is, why is that not help class warfare? And the same question for you, Governor Palin, is you have proposed taxing employer health benefits, which some studies say would actually throw five million people on to the rolls of the uninsured, I want to know why that isn't taking things out on the poor starting with you, Senator Biden.

BIDEN: Well, Gwen, where I come from, it's called fairness. Just simple fairness. The middle class is struggling. The middle class under John McCain's tax proposal, 100 million families, middle class families, households to be precise. They got not a single change, they got not a single break in taxes. No one making less than $250,000 under Barack Obama's plan will see one single penny of their tax raised, whether it's their capital gains tax, their income tax, investment tax, any tax. And 95 percent of the people in the United States of America making less than $150,000 will get a tax break. Now, that seems to me to be simple fairness. The economic engine of America is the middle class. It's the people listening to this broadcast.

When do you well, America does well even the wealthy do well. This is not punitive. John wants to add $300 million - billion dollars in new tax cuts per year for corporate America and the very wealthy. While giving virtually nothing to the middle class. We have a different value set. The middle class is the economic engine. It's fair. They deserve the tax breaks, not the super wealthy who are doing pretty well. They don't need anymore tax breaks. And by the way, they'll pay no more than they did under Ronald Reagan.

IFILL: Governor?

PALIN: I do take issue with some of the principle there with that redistribution of wealth principle that seems to be espoused by you. But when you talk about Barack's plan to tax increase affecting only those making $250,000 a year or more, you're forgetting the millions of small businesses that are going to fit into that category. So they're going to be the ones paying higher taxes. Thus resulting in fewer jobs being created and less productivity. Now, you said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic.

In the middle class of America which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that's not patriotic. Patriotic is saying government, you know, you're not always the solution. In fact, too often you're the problem. So government, lessen the tax burden on the private sector and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper. An increased tax formula that Barack Obama is proposing in addition to nearly a trillion dollars in new spending that he's proposing is the backwards way of trying to grow our economy.


KING: Let's bring in our panel, members of the best political team on television. CNN political contributor and democratic strategist Donna Brazile, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and veteran Republican strategist and senior CNN contributor Ed Rollins. The economy, issue number one. The candidates debating it in the vice presidential debate. And as we know, the morning after, the United States Congress finally passes the big bailout plan. Let's start with the debate. Our viewers and those who watch the debate on any network thought Joe Biden won the debate, a 51 percent said Senator Biden did the best job, 36 percent say Governor Palin did that.

Interestingly, no gender gap in this one. Men scored it 51-36 for Biden, women scored it 51-35 for Biden. So the VP candidates debate and discussed taxes. The Congress passes the bailout plan, the significance, Ed Rollins, of the economic role, the role of the economy in this campaign now and what do Obama and McCain do to carry on the debate.

ED ROLLINS, CNN SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR: It is the rest of this. The war is not going to be relevant other than what it costs Americans to be there. I think the rest of this debate is going to be how do we get moving so we can recreate jobs, not just bailing out Wall Street, which obviously this is all about, but how do we make America feel good about itself again and how do we basically reboot the economy. Whoever can come up with the kind of a formula, neither of them have that kind of a formula, basically may move forward. KING: The blame game over what tied up the bailout, what stalled the bailout is over. Now these two candidates need to be bigger. Biden and Palin pretty conventional debate about the Democrats will raise your taxes. Joe Biden say the Republicans are the ones who unregulated this economy and let all these happen. Where are we going now?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we have to go to the future now and I think as much as Obama is trying to tie down John McCain to George W. Bush, he's doing it saying he's going to give you more of the same in the future. And I agree with Ed, I think the candidates now have to come up with a plan for what they're going to do to rescue the economy. I think we've heard a lot of bromide. They weren't really specific in their last debate. I think now is an opportunity for John McCain, they've gotten past the Sarah Palin issues for now. Now is the opportunity for him to take that turn and to start talking about the economy on his own terms. And that's what lots of Republicans want him to do because they want to see a consistency there that they haven't seen.

KING: And what about the Democrats? Senator Biden was very aggressive in the traditional attack dog role of linking McCain to Bush, failed economy strategies from the Democratic perspective. You were disappointed after the first debate that neither candidate that including yours, the Democrat, didn't layout more about what they would do specifically about the economy. Didn't make that connection. What is the challenge for the Democrats now that we know the $700 billion plan will become the law of the land like it or not? How do you deal with the mood of the country from a Democratic perspective now?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think voters would like to see these candidates come up with a credible plan that will help grow our economy, dealing with the deficit, and meet the needs of states and cities across the country. I mean, we've heard just this past weekend that California now needs a bailout. Who is next? Is it New York? Is it Florida? So I think the President and his statement following the passage of the bill tried to dampen enthusiasm. That's because we don't know what's next. We don't know what's the next shoe to drop, the next bank to fail. So I think the candidates need to remain credible and stop arguing about the past.

KING: Life and politics isn't fair sometimes. The Republicans are the party out of power at the moment. There is an unpopular Republican president in the White House, so is the burden higher on John McCain to have details and specifics and is there anything to learn from Governor Palin in making a personal connection to John McCain and both senators?

ROLLINS, Absolutely. John McCain has to convince the public that he's just not this traditional Republican, cut more taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts. That there really is something different. And saying I'm going to cut out all earmarks which is $15 billion, half of which are defense, is not saleable. He has to be bold and come in and say here is what I have to do. I have to drastically cut this government today. I have to do this to get the economy moving again. Here are some of the best economic minds in the country who are advising me and this is what I'm going to put together. And might even go so far as to say here's my Treasury Secretary if can he find the right person.

BORGER: And if you're Barack Obama, you might do the same thing. Remember he had a press conference the other day with Bill Clinton's entire economic team who suddenly seems to be Barack Obama's economic team to remind people of the prosperity of the '90s. So maybe that's something Obama will do and say here's my brain trust, we're coming up with a plan to get us back to the '90s.

KING: And announce the cabinet now so we can all take a vacation after the election.

BORGER: That's right.

ROLLINS: Treasury Secretary right now has more power than the president of the United States and basically is more important than the vice president.

KING: An interesting point. We'll watch that in our look ahead. And up next, hear the running mates on Wall Street. Who is to blame and how to fix it. Later, a humility moment. Biden and Palin on their own weaknesses when our special campaign coverage returns.


KING: All eyes on St. Louis for the debate and safe to say they'll be watching even closer on election night. Missouri is with the tip of the hat to Mr. Sinatra, the swingingnest of swing states there is. Always in play along with many other surprises on the road to 207 electoral votes. Let's take a look at where we are at the moment and this is the key thing to know. CNN right now projects Barack Obama leading in states with 250 electoral votes, 270 makes you president.

So a significant advantage for Barack Obama heading into the final month of this campaign. For Barack Obama, a menu of options. The gold states are the toss up states, a menu to get to the 270. Just watch this. If Barack Obama can win Wisconsin, turn that blue and win the state of Virginia, turn that blue, he would be under the scenario of the next president of the United States.

Let's come back to where we stand today. How does John McCain turn this around? He must keep Missouri where that debate was in the Republican column. He must take Florida's 27 electoral votes and put them Republican. He must win the state of Ohio and those 20 electoral votes. That would get him in to a virtual tie and the two candidates would fight it out over these smaller electoral battlegrounds. That would be the contest if Senator McCain can bring this map to his advantage.

But to keep this edge, Senators Obama and Biden know the key is to keep the edge they currently enjoy on the issue of the economy. And to turn the map around in the Republican favor, the challenge for Senator McCain and Governor Palin is to convince Americans not only that they have the better economic plan, but that they better understand the economic anxiety across the country right now. And that was Governor Palin's key goal in the debate when the issue of the subprime lending crisis came up.


PALIN: Darn right it was the predator lenders who tried to talk Americans in to thinking that it was smart to buy a $300,000 house if we could only afford a $100,000 house. There was deception there. And there was greed and there is corruption on Wall Street. And we need to stop that. Again, John McCain and I, that commitment that we have made and we're going to follow through on that, getting rid of that corruption. One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let's commit ourselves just every day American people, Joe six pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars.

We need to make sure that we demand from the federal government strict oversight of those entities in charge of our investments and our savings. And we need, also, to not get ourselves in debt. Let's do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card. Don't live outside of our means. We need to make sure that as individuals, we're taking personal responsibility through all this. It's not the American people's fault that the economy is hurting like it is. But we have an opportunity to learn a heck of a lot of good lessons through this and say never again will we be taken advantage of.

IFILL: Senator.

BIDEN: Well, Gwen, two years ago, Barack Obama warned about the subprime mortgage crisis. John McCain said shortly after that in December he was surprised there was a subprime mortgage problem. John McCain while Barack Obama was warning about what we had to do was literally giving an interview to the "Wall Street Journal" saying that I'm always for cutting regulations. We let Wall Street run wild.

John McCain, and he's a good man, but John McCain thought that the answer is that tried and true Republican response, deregulate, deregulate. So what you had is you had overwhelming, "deregulation," you had actually the belief that Wall Street could self-regulate itself. While Barack Obama was talking about reinstating those regulation, John on 20 different occasions in the previous year and a half called for more deregulation.

As a matter of fact, John recently wrote an article in a major magazine saying that he wants to do for the health care industry deregulate it and let the free market move like he did for the banking industry. So deregulation was the promise and guess what? Those people who would say don't go into debt, they can barely pay to fill up their gas tank.

I was recently at my local gas station. Asked a guy named Joey Danker, I said, Joey, how much did it cost to fill your tank? Do you know what his answer was? He said I don't know, Joe. I never have enough money to do it. The middle class needs relief. Tax relief. They need it now. They need help now. The focus will change with Barack Obama.


KING: Let's turn now to the correspondents that's living and breathing this stuff cross country 24/7. Dana Bash is in St. Louis and in Washington, Jessica Yellin. Dana, let me start with you because the Republicans back on their heels when it comes to issue number one at the moment, the economy. Sarah Palin trying to make a personal connection. Is that the prescription for McCain-Palin saying we get it, we understand your life?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is certainly something that they clearly as you just heard Sarah Palin try to do, they realize they need to do. John McCain and, frankly, Barack Obama for that matter haven't done that very well at all. They have been trying to make more of a connection, but what I thought was really fascinating is that in the instant analysis poll taken about that particular issue, did Sarah Palin connect? Joe Biden seemed to have done better on that issue. That was one of their top goals inside the McCain campaign.

So look John McCain is going to be - spend the weekend - spending the weekend down at his cabin near Sedona. He is going to be working on his next debate. It's hard to imagine they're not going to try to come up with new ways for him to do what you just described, find ways to connect. But it is clear that he'll have to try to put some more meat on the bones of how he's going to do that.

KING: So Jessica if the McCain-Palin ticket thinks they need a new way, do Obama and Biden think they need something new and different or do they think that by just pounding John McCain on regulation and saying, don't worry, we get it better is that enough?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They think that's enough. They think they're doing the right thing. Look their message is starting to click. We've seen it in the polls. They're very confident that the way the economy is going, it plays well to their message, which is that they will do things differently. The one thing they do need to do is have Barack Obama do what Dana was talking about, connect in a more personal way. We saw it with Sarah Palin when she talked about how she's part of mom and pop America. Barack Obama needs to do that better. Joe Biden did it well last night. Sarah Palin does it well. That's where they need the lead candidate to step it up.

KING: The lead candidate, Dana Bash, let's talk a little bit about that. We'll address this much more specifically later. But when Sarah Palin says I sit around the table, I worry about my 401(k), those are conversations John McCain cannot have because of his relative wealth. How does he make the connection?

BASH: Well, I think, frankly, that's one of the main reasons why they picked Sarah Palin, because they need someone else to do it for him. You know, it is one of the many, many, many down sides of being in the Senate, not just having you know, frankly a wealthy wife, but being in the Senate for as long as he has been. He doesn't have those stories. He's not somebody who has been a mayor like Sarah Palin or been a governor. He doesn't spend time except through very specific photo-op like events that he's had on the campaign trail. He doesn't spend a lot of time talking to people. So it's not easy. It's not easy for him to do and that's why they're relying on Sarah Palin to do it for him.

KING: More on this a bit later. We'll be back with both of you. Jessica and Dana, thank you very much. And when we come back, dealing with dictators, and some sharp differences between the candidates on just how to do it. Also, how Senator Biden handled his prime directive, making the McCain-Bush-Cheney connection. Stay with us.


KING: Barack Obama made waves in the Democratic primary when he suggested that America needed to talk not only to friend, but adversary even enemies. Hillary Clinton saw it as an opportunity then to paint him as a foreign policy green horn. So has John McCain. And in St. Louis, so did Sarah Palin.


PALIN: With some of these dictators who hate America and hate what we stand for with our freedoms, our democracy, our tolerance, our respect for women's rights. Those who would try to destroy what we stand for cannot be met with just sitting down on a presidential level as Barack Obama has said he would be willing to do. That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous. No, diplomacy is very important, first and foremost that is what we would engage in but diplomacy is hard work by serious people. It's lining out clear objectives and having your friends and your allies ready to back you up there and have sanctions lined up, also, before any kind of presidential summit would take place.

IFILL: Senator?

BIDEN: Can I clarify this? That's just simply not true about Barack Obama. He did not say he'd sit down with Ahmadinejad. The fact of the matter is it surprises me that Senator McCain doesn't realize that Ahmadinejad does not control the security apparatus in Iran. The theocracy controls the security apparatus, number one. Number two, five secretaries of state did say we should talk with and sit down. Now, John and Governor Palin now say they're all for - they have a passion, I think the phrase was, a passion for diplomacy and that we have to bring our friends and allies along.

Our friends and allies have been saying Gwen, sit down, talk, talk, talk. Our friends and allies have been saying that. Five secretaries of state, three of them Republicans, and John McCain has said he would go along with an agreement, but he wouldn't sit down. Now, how do you that when you don't have your administration sit down and talk with the adversary? And look what President Bush did. After five years, he finally sent a high ranking diplomat to meet with the highest ranking diplomats in Iran in Europe to try to work out an arrangement.

Our allies are on that same page and if we don't go the extra mile in diplomacy, what makes you think the allies are going to sit with us. The last points I'll make, John McCain said as recently as a couple weeks ago, he wouldn't even sit down with the government of Spain. A NATO ally that has troops in Afghanistan with us now. I find that incredible.


KING: Back with our panel now. Donna Brazile, Gloria Borger, and Ed Rollins. Gloria, let's start with a fact check. Barack Obama did not mention Ahmadinejad by name in the Democratic primaries, but did he say in the CNN youtube debate he would be willing to sit down without pre-conditions with the leaders of Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela. I believe that was the list. It might have been one or two more. It is in his first year without preconditions - Joe Biden -

BORGER: Joe Biden said he didn't, but he did. He honestly did say that and they've been trying to sort of get out of that ever since by saying that they're talking about diplomatic relations, et cetera, et cetera. So you know I think she made the point that we all knew she was going to make, but Biden in responding to her did bring up the fact that McCain said that he wouldn't sit down with Spain. Now, a lot of people thought that was strange.

KING: That was a little odd. Ed Rollins, let me come to the bigger question. Republicans in almost every campaign try to suggest the Democrats are soft. They're weak. Sarah Palin saying it's dangerous to say you'd sit down with Ahmadinejad without pre-conditions, without pre-diplomacy, if you will, to get to the presidential level. It's a case that John McCain made in the first presidential debate. Did Sarah Palin given her inexperience on the national stage have the standing to make that?

ROLLINS: I think this whole debate is about the silliest thing of all. I mean someone who has spent 25 years of my life in high levels of government, you never basically make statements about what you can do or not do. You know, obviously we always want to make Democrats weak and usually they do it themselves. But -


ROLLINS: - at the end of the day at this very troubled times, to make someone say I'm going to be a big boy pledge before you sit down and have dialogue with them is foolish.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On the flip side, he says you know he says the Democrats make themselves weak but there's a debate here between soft as the Republicans are trying to say Barack Obama is, and stubborn, which is the argument that Joe Biden is trying to make about the Bush administration by extension John McCain. The American people, the economy is issue number one. What do they care about this, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look, they care about having a fresh start, not only here at home, but also abroad. They recognize that we're now fiscally unable to meet many of our obligations abroad. And that includes providing resources to states who are allies with the United States. Senator Obama has said we need to prepare to meet some of these countries at the table.

Right now the Bush administration is following Senator Obama's lead by having a high ranking Bush administration official sit down with Iran. We need to also find ways to sit down with people that we disagree with, but perhaps we could find some agreement long term.

KING: She seemed, Governor Palin did much more comfortable on taxes, the mortgage mess, than she did on foreign policy, but did she hold her own, did she make a big mistake?

BORGER: She didn't make a big mistake and that means she held her own and so Republicans like Ed can kind of take a deep breath because she didn't embarrass herself. She -

KING: Are you taking a deep breath?

ROLLINS: I was very happy with the night.

BORGER: Right. She did fine. She clearly on foreign policy, it was clear that Joe Biden was restraining himself sometimes. She didn't make any large mistakes, but she was very general, whereas Joe Biden was very, very specific. And she stuck with the generalities, which is what they told her to do.

KING: All right. Time out here for now. Up next, Joe Biden gets emotional. See what happens. See how Sarah Palin responded and why it's raising some eyebrows. And later, sharp difference and a tough acquisition over the war in Iraq. A break first, though. We're back after this.


KING: In St. Louis, moderator Gwen Ifill asked both vice presidential candidates to the talk about what they thought their Achilles heel might be. Governor Sarah Palin instead talked about why she thought John McCain picked her to be on the Republican ticket and Joe Biden about why his ticket is the best to bring change to Washington. It wasn't long before the word maverick came up. Senator Biden took issue with it. Take a look.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My experience as a an executive will be put to good use as a mayor and business owner and oil and gas regulator and then as governor of a huge state, a huge energy-producing state that is accounting for much progress towards getting our nation energy independence and that's extremely important. But it wasn't just that experience tapped into, it was my connection to the heartland of America, being a mom, being one who is very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills, about times in Todd and our marriage and our past where we didn't have health insurance and we know what other Americans are going through as they sit around the kitchen table and try to figure out how are they going to pay out of pocket for health care? We've been there, also. So that connection was important. But even more important is that world view that I share with John McCain. That world view that says that America is a nation of exceptionalism. And we are to be that shining city on a hill as President Reagan so beautifully said that we are a beacon of hope and that we are unapologetic here. We are not perfect as a nation, but together, we represent a perfect ideal. And that is democracy and tolerance and freedom and equal rights. Those things that we stand for that we can be put to good use as a force for good in this world. John McCain and I share that. And you combine all that with being a team with the only track record of making really a difference in where we've been and reforming, and that's a good team, it's good ticket.

IFILL: Senator?

BIDEN: I've been very kind suggesting my only Achilles heel is my lack of discipline. Others talk about it my excessive passion. I'm not going to change. I have 35 years in public office. People can judge who I am. I haven't changed in that time and by the way, a record of change, I will place my record and Barack's record against John McCain's in terms of fundamental accomplishments. Wrote the crime bill. Put 100,000 cops on the street, wrote the violence against women act which John McCain voted against both of them, was the catalyst to change the circumstance in Bosnia led by President Clinton obviously.

Look, I understand what it's like to be a single parent. When my wife and daughter died and my two sons were gravely injured, I understand what it's like as a parent to wonder what it's like if your kid's going to make it. I understand what it's like to sit around the kitchen table with a father who says I got to leave, champ, because there's no jobs here. I got to head down to Wilmington and when we get enough money, honey, we'll bring you down. I understand what it's like. I'm much better off than almost all Americans now. I get a good salary in the United States Senate. I live in a beautiful house that's my total investment that I have. So I am much better off now. But the notion that somehow because I'm a man I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to make it. I understand. I understand. As well as with all due respect the governor or anybody else what it's like for those people sitting around that kitchen table and guess what, they're looking for help. They're looking for help. They're not look nothing more of the same.

IFILL: Governor?

PALIN: People aren't looking for more of the same. They are looking for change. And John McCain has been the consummate maverick in the Senate over all these years. He's taken shots left and right from the other party and from within his own party because he's had to take on his own party when the time was right, when he recognized it was time to put partisan ship aside and just do what was right for the American people. That's what I've done as governor, also, take on my own party when I had to and work with both sides of the aisle in my cabinet appointing those who would serve regardless of party. Democrat, independents, Republicans, whatever it took to get the job done. Also John McCain's maverick position that he's in, that's really trumped up, too and indicated by the supporters that he has. Look at Lieberman and Giuliani and Romney and Lingel and all of us who come from such a diverse background of policy and of partisanship, all coming together at this time recognizing he is the man that we need to lead in the next four years because these are tumultuous times. We have got to win the wars, we have got to get our economy back on track. We have got to not allow the agreed and corruption on Wall Street anymore. And we have not got to allow the partisanship that has really been entrenched in Washington D.C. no matter who's been in charge.

When the Republicans were in charge, I didn't see a whole lot of progress there either. When the Democrats either, though, this last go around for the last two years, change is coming and John McCain is the leader of that reform.

BIDEN: I'll be very brief. Can I respond to that? Look, the maverick, let's talk about the maverick, John McCain is. And again I love him, he's been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives. He voted for the five times so George Bush's budget which puts us a half a trillion dollars in debt this year and over $3 trillion in debt that he's got there. He has not been a maverick in providing health care for people. He has voted against - he voted against including another 3.6 million children in coverage of the existing health care plan when he voted in the United States Senate. He's not been a maverick when it comes to education. He has not supported tax cuts and significant changes for people being able to send their kids to college. He's not been a maverick on the war. He's not been a maverick on virtually anything that generally affects the things that people really talk about around their kitchen table.

Can we send - can we get mom's MRI? Can we send Mary back to school next semester? We can't make it. How are we going to heat the house this winter? He voted against even providing for what they call lie heat for assistance to people with oil prices going through the roof in the winter. So maverick, he is not, on the important critical issues that affect people at that kitchen table.


KING: A mix there of some familiar talking points. Also, though, some remarkable personal stories about life around the kitchen table. Let's get our panel's take. Donna Brazile, Gloria Borger, Ed Rollins, still with us. Donna, the point going in for the Republicans was to show that Sarah Palin is a mom who has struggled, who knows what it's like to watch your 401(k) go down, but yet Joe Biden says I will yield you no ground, I tragically lost a wife in car accident, I was a single parent once. How did he do on the personal side?

BRAZILE: I thought did he very well. He connected emotionally with middle class voters who are concerned about their paycheck. He talked about walking the streets of Scranton, walking down the aisle of Home Depot. But on a personal level, he also mentioned his son, who's gone off to Iraq. So I thought did he very well in coming across as someone who is compassionate, who cares about the middle class and deeply cares about what's happened across America today with families across the board.

BORGER: It's interesting because he also said you don't have to be a woman to get this, that I, you know, I was a single parent with these kids. And he got so emotional about it. And he made the point quite directly. OK, she's a woman, she's telling you, she gets it but I get it, too.

KING: This bailout debate has made people even more angry, more mad, more distanced than they were from Washington. Sarah Palin clearly trying to make the case we will change things. John McCain is a maverick. Joe Biden came back pretty strong. Not on the issues that matter most to you. How did that one play well?

ROLLINS: I thought it played out well. I think she did connect, she does to ordinary people out there. You know, my sense is his touching moment there, which obviously we talked, brought it back. It was an emotional moment, we sort of had a debate, which is the three decades of the history of Joe Biden and John McCain. I always felt halfway through John McCain ought to be there to defend his own record and obviously take Biden on in his record, but this became emotional. This was connecting to ordinary people.

KING: And in the sense that these two connected - these two connect to ordinary people better than the principals?

BRAZILE: I thought Joe Biden was a lot more passionate in terms of his response. And really using anecdotes and people's lives and stories just to really connect with undecided voters, swing voters out there, that really want to know what is Senator Obama's plans for the future. Joe Biden gave it to us not only in sound, but also I think he was the passionate - a living embodiment of the Obama-Biden ticket.

KING: Donna mentioned undecided swing voters, is that Sarah Palin's target or does she have a different target in this debate?

BORGER: Well, I think she had to sort of reassure the base, that some of those folks that might have been moving away from them, women in particular who were moving away from the McCain campaign. And, also, independent voters who were undecided. So, sure, that's why you heard her talk so much about maverick, maverick, maverick. Bipartisan. Work across the aisle. All of those kinds of buzz words that say to independent voters we're not going to forget you.

KING: Much, much more to talk about with our panel. But coming up, what did Americans think? We'll check in with undecided voters who were watching the debate. Did the Biden-Palin faceoff help them make up their minds? We'll also look at Senator Biden's debate style and whether it served him well. All that just ahead.


KING: Joe Biden's goal on the debate with Sarah Palin, was to tie John McCain to President Bush and his unpopular policies, the core strategy of the Obama campaign. And Biden used the financial crisis rocking Wall street to Main Street to drive home the point. Take a look.


BIDEN: John McCain said at 9:00 in the morning that the fundamentals of the economy were strong. Two weeks before that, he said we've made great economic progress under George Bush's policies. John McCain said exactly what Dick Cheney said. The issue is, how different is John McCain's policy going to be than George Bush's? I haven't heard anything yet. I haven't heard how his policies are going to be different on Iran than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy is going to be different with Israel than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Afghanistan is going to be different than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Pakistan is going to be different than George Bush's? It may be, but so far, it is the same as George Bush's. And you know where that policy has taken us.


KING: So how effective was Joe Biden in linking John McCain to the Bush administration and did Sarah Palin succeed in setting the McCain ticket apart from Bush's policies? Let's go to CNN's Dana Bash in St. Louis, Jessica Yellin in Washington.

Jessica, Senator Biden there was unrelenting, more of the same. That was the credo we heard at the Democratic convention and Camp Obama they must be happy with that.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I thought that was one of his strongest moments in the debate and it was because he used the first rule of debating and of television frankly, which is used repetition to make your point. Hammer it home. He did it in the sound bite. He did it throughout the debate constantly linking McCain to Bush. And Palin's response, that he's focused only on the past wasn't very convincing because George Bush is the present. This link has been drawn before. I thought she needed a stronger comeback to that, actually pointing out ways that McCain is different from Bush, to make her point. And she really didn't do it.

KING: How about that point, Dana Bash? Joe Biden did over and over again, especially what he said on the issues that matter to you, mentioning economic issues, education issues. Was Governor Palin as aggressive in pushing back as Camp McCain would have wanted?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't think so. Not as aggressive frankly as John McCain was himself in his first debate with Barack Obama, when Obama tried that McCain was able to say here is how I differed with George Bush and ticked off some of the examples. But I think that what Sarah Palin tried to do, in talking to their advisers, it was clear that - that this was sort of planned. It was no surprise that Joe Biden was going to try to link John McCain to George Bush is kind of use what she has. What does she have? She has, I'm different. I'm somebody who you don't know. I am not George Bush. Try to use that to sort of you know look at Joe Biden and say, come on, you know, you are somebody who is clearly inside Washington. You can't get outside of Washington. I'm somebody who can make everybody realize we're looking beyond that. That was the goal. You know, it's going to be interesting whether or not it was actually successful.

KING: And Jessica, quickly, we heard the name Dick Cheney a lot more than we heard in the first presidential debate. I would venture to guess that Dick Cheney is more unpopular among soft Democrats say Hillary Clinton voters or independent voters than even George W. Bush. No accident there?

YELLIN: No accident there. That's a bit of a throw-away. I mean, Sarah Palin is no Dick Cheney, that's for sure. But you definitely roused the Democratic base by using his name at any point. So Biden gave them a little red meat.

KING: Jessica Yellin, Dana Bash, we'll talk to both of you a bit later. Thank you very much.

CNN has 32 undecided voters in Ohio to watch the debate and to share their reactions with us. We pooled together a mix of registered Democrats, Republicans, and independents and put them in the same room at Ohio State University. Before the debate, all said they had not firmly settled on a candidate. When it was over, it was clear who they thought had won. But whether that translates into votes come election day, well that's anything but clear.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: Who do you think won the debate? If you think Joe Biden won the debate, raise your hand, please. OK. That looks overwhelming. Let's now do, if you think Sarah Palin won the debate, raise your hands. So small hands. Joe Biden wins by a significant margin there. Let's talk a little bit about some moments that resonated with you. I'm going, excuse me for reaching over, if you will. What's your name?


O'BRIEN: And you are a registered independent?

(BAYOLA): Yes, independent.

O'BRIEN: So what was the moment that really resonated with you?

(BAYOLA): I think early on Palin just seemed more real, more genuine, straight talk. And once she got into that mode, I think Biden did the same. And that was much different than the last debate with the presidential --

O'BRIEN: We had you in the last panel and you did not like that you weren't getting some specific answers.

(BAYOLA): Exactly.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's move down here a little bit. What did you think was the moment that maybe made you not feel so good, when you were dialing way down on your dial tester? What's your name, sorry?

(GERRY TIMCO), RESPONDENT: (Gerry Timco). When Gwen Ifill asked both the candidates, what promises would you not be able to follow through with, because of the current financial crisis? When Sarah Palin said I've only been at this for five weeks, I don't have any promises, that indicated to me if she's only been at this for five weeks, then she is in no way, shape or form ready to be vice president, or much less president.

O'BRIEN: You are a registered democrat.

(TIMCO): Right.

O'BRIEN: So that was your moment of feeling that did not resonate with you.

(TIMCO): Right.

O'BRIEN: Let's go over here. First start with your name, if you will.

(JASON RONNIS), RESPONDENT: I'm Jason (Ronnis). I'm a registered Republican.

O'BRIEN: So there were lots of folksy moments we saw in this debate. I think mostly really from Governor Palin.

(RONNIS): Yes, from Palin.

O'BRIEN: Stating so Joe, moments like that. As a registered republican, did you respond positively to that, or did you not love those?

(RONNIS): You know, I didn't find them super compelling. I recognize that I suspect a lot of Americans do. But for me, it didn't - you know that's not going to swing my vote. One way or another.

O'BRIEN: That was interesting to see in the panel across the board actually people all dialed down on those. I thought that was kind of interesting. Now you had all mentioned, in fact, that one of the things we asked when you came in was, are you persuadable? Made your leaning one way or the other but would be willing to change your mind? So I'd like to see a show of hands.

After this evening's debate, anybody feel OK, I've now made a decision? Raise your hand if you've made a decision. Wow. So this debate, the vice presidential debate has solidified it for you. I'm going to get right in here. And tell me your name.

SARAH (RECOB): Sarah Recob.

O'BRIEN: What was it that made you make a decision? And who are you voting for?

(RECOB): Well, I'm pretty sure I'm going to vote for Obama.

O'BRIEN: What happened in the vice presidential debate that made you think that? (RECOB): Well, I dislike all their answers. I watched the presidential debate, and now this one, and I just like all of his answers. And the economy, and just everything. More than Palin.

O'BRIEN: Anybody here make a decision to vote for John McCain at the end of this evening?

We've got one McCain supporter. You are a registered Republican, is that correct? What's your name?

BECKY MOCK: My name is Becky (Mock).

O'BRIEN: What did you hear in this debate that makes you sway to McCain now?

(MOCK): I think Sarah Palin was able to regain that she is a real person. And that she knows what she's going to be doing. And I think she's able to restore the confidence in McCain's choice as her being his vice president.

O'BRIEN: Excellent. All right. Let's do a show of hands for our final question. Who do you think is going to win this election? Raise your hands if you think Barack Obama will win this election. Overwhelming.

Raise your hands if you think John McCain's going to win this election. Follow up question. Raise your hands if you're going to vote for Barack Obama. Interesting. Roughly half I'm going to say. And raise your hands if you're going to vote for John McCain. Well our undecided, interesting, not everybody's decided.


KING: An interesting group there. Now, the war in Iraq was center stage in the Biden-Palin face-off. Just ahead, we'll bring you that part of the debate.

Plus say it isn't so. Did Governor Palin's folksy expressions pay off? We look at her debate style when our special coverage continues.


KING: We're back now with our special coverage of the vice presidential debate in St. Louis. The only vice presidential debate before election day. I'm John King in New York in the CNN election center. The standard rule is, running mates don't matter much. But this is no usual campaign. And as vice presidential debates go, this one was in a league of its own. A must-see event for many Americans.

For Governor Sarah Palin, the challenge was, you might say, to get her mojo back after a splashy introduction to the national stage and some stumbles, including an interview with Katie Couric which raised questions about Governor's Palin's command of the issues.

For Senator Joe Biden, a very different challenge -- keep it sharp and tight, free of gas and, as much as possible, free of Washington speak. For both candidates, it was a pivotal moment. And we'll spend much of the hour ahead listening to Biden and Palin in their own words and we'll bring you the best moments of the V.P. debate.

We'll also talk about it with the Best Political Team on Television, and map out where the race now stands and what both sides need to do in these final weeks.

Barack was front and center stage for good part of the debate. Both candidates did their best to hit their talking points hard while defending their running mates' positions, including how and when to leave Iraq. Take a look.


SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Barack Obama has offered a clear plan -- shift responsibility to the Iraqis over the next 16 months, draw down our combat troops. Ironically the same plan that Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, and George Bush are now negotiating. The only odd man out here, only one left out is John McCain. Number one.

Number two, with regard to Barack Obama not, quote, "funding the troops," John McCain voted the exact same way. John McCain voted against funding the troops because the amendment he voted for -- or voted against, had a time line in it, to draw down American troops. And John said, I'm not going to fund the troops if, in fact, there is a time line.

Barack Obama and I agree fully and completely on one thing, you've got to have a time line to draw down the troops and shift responsibility to the Iraqis. We're spending $10 billion a month while the Iraqis have an $80 billion surplus. Barack says it's time for them to spend their own money, have the 400,000 military we've trained for them begin to take their own stability, and gradually over six months, sixteen months, withdraw.

John McCain, this is a fundamental difference between us. We will end this war. For John McCain, there is no end in sight to end this war. Fundamental difference. We will end this war.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq. And that is not what our troops need to hear today, that's for sure. And it's not what our nation needs to be able to count on. You guys oppose the surge. The surge worked. Barack Obama still can't admit the surge works.

We'll know when we're finished in Iraq when the Iraqi government can govern its people and when the Iraqi security forces can secure its people. And our commanders on the ground will tell us when those conditions have been met. And Maliki and Talabani also in working with us are knowing again that we are getting closer and closer to that point, that victory that's within sight. Now, you said regarding Senator McCain's military policies there, Senator Biden, that you supported a lot of these things. In fact, you said that you wanted to run -- you'd be honored to run with him on the ticket. And that's an indication, I think, of some of the support that you had at least until you became the V.P. pick here.

You also said that Barack Obama was not ready to be commander-in- chief. And I know again that you opposed the move that he made to try to cut off funding for the troops and I respect you for that. I don't know how you can defend that position now, but I know that you know especially with your son in the National Guard and I have great respect for your family also and the honor that you show our military. Barack Obama, though, another story there. Anyone I think who can cut off funding for the troops after promising not to, that's another story.

IFILL: Senator Biden?

BIDEN: John McCain voted to cut off funding for the troops. Let me say that again. John McCain voted against an amendment containing $1 billion, $600 million that I had gotten to get MRAPS, those things that are protecting the governor's son and, pray God, my son and a lot of other sons and daughters.

He voted against it. He voted against the funding because he said the amendment had a time line in it to end this war. And he didn't like that. But let's get straight who has been right and wrong. John McCain and Dick Cheney said while I was saying we would not be greeted as liberators, we would not -- this war would take a decade, not a day, not a week and not six months, we would not be out of there quickly.

John McCain was saying the Sunnis and Shias got along with each other without reading the history of the last 700 years. John McCain said there would be enough oil to pay for this. John McCain has been dead wrong. I love him. As my mother would say, God love him, but he's been dead wrong on the fundamental issues relating to the conduct of the war. Barack Obama has been right. There are the facts. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was one of Senator Biden's most forceful attacks on John McCain's judgment during the debate. But was it effective? Did Governor Palin successfully put the focus on the surge, one of her campaign's most frequent talking points?

Let's go back to our panel. Members of the Best Political Team on Television. Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and long-time Democratic strategist; Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst; and senior CNN contributor Ed Rollins, a long-time Republican strategist.

Ed, the war in Iraq is unpopular. It's not an issue that Republicans can make up ground on. But with independent voters at this moment in time, arguing over who's the better commander-in-chief to have the best exit strategy, did Governor Palin make the case?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think she got off to a pretty good start. I mean, the truth of the matter once again is McCain's got to make the case. And I think that, you know, we've got to get out of there. We've got to set a time frame. Nobody wants our side to set a time frame. And I think until John McCain basically says, whoever gets to be president basically says, here's where we are, we've got to move on, and a lot of it depends on what they do.

KING: Donna Brazile, many Democrats were cringing eight years ago when Dick Cheney outdebated Joe Lieberman. That was the perception. Four years ago when Dick Cheney outdebated John Edwards. That was the perception. Joe Biden would yield nothing. Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Barack Obama. More cheers for him than, say, four, eight years ago?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Perhaps the format matters because when Joe Biden stood up, he was able to challenge Sarah Palin in a way that was not condescending or patronizing. But Joe Biden made the case for Barack Obama. He made the case on both domestic issues as well as foreign policy.

Sarah Palin came into that debate to dig herself out of the hole that she dug based on her answers to some questions about another anchor person. She did herself some good but I don't think she helped move the ticket any farther down the road.

KING: A missed opportunity for her? Joe Biden did vote to authorize the president to go to war. She mentioned it but she didn't drill on it. Joe Biden also said in the Democratic primary debates, when he was a very good debater, that Barack Obama was a nice guy, maybe some day a president, but not ready to be commander-in-chief. She didn't bring that up.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think she missed -- I think she missed a couple of those points. I think, honestly, when it comes to foreign policy, she doesn't have a lot of credibility on foreign policy. They wanted her to stick to generalities, to talk about John McCain, to talk about the terror issue to, you know, stick it to the Democrats on national security kind of generally, which I think she did.

And I think between Obama's debate and between Joe Biden's debate -- don't forget after all part of the reason he was chosen was to reassure people on the national security foreign policy front. Between the two of them, the commander-in-chief issue is getting laid to rest.

KING: We talked a bit earlier about independent voters. One of her audience is Republicans, moralists down a little bit, mostly because of the economic debate and John McCain's erratic campaign in recent weeks. How did she score with them?

ROLLINS: Well, I think she did very well among Republicans. I mean that classic line would have been, I love you, Joe, but you did do this. You know, I mean, if I was John McCain and I saw Biden come near me and say I love you, I'd duck.

(LAUGHTER) KING: Anything -- there's another debate Tuesday night. We'll talk in more detail about it a bit later. But anything come up in this foreign policy discussions that needs to be cleaned up or furthered when we get to Tuesday night, you think?

BORGER: I think you're always going to have the surge issue. I think Barack Obama's always going to have a problem on the surge.

Rollins: He can't get over it. He can't get over it.


BORGER: He can't get over it, because he can't say, you know what, I didn't think the surge was going to work as well as it's worked. He's always had that problem. It's going to come up time and time again. He's lucky, however, the American people think the surge worked but they're still against the war.

KING: If Barack Obama wins after the election, will he invite John McCain to the White House and say, you know what, on the surge issue, you were right?

BRAZILE: I think when President Obama takes the oath of office he should invite not only Senator McCain but the entire Senate to try to get it right in Iraq so we can bring our troops home.

KING: All right. We'll leave the Iraq conversation there. Up next, two hot-button issues and two very different takes on them. Should same-sex couples get the same benefits and rights as married couples? Also, debates are as much about style as substance. When our special coverage continues, a look at Governor Palin's home-spun style and the strategy behind it.




KING: The V.P. debate covering a lot of ground beyond Iraq and the economy. Neither campaign supports gay marriage. But on the issue of benefits for same-sex couples, they see things quite differently. Take a look.


IFILL: The next round of questions starts with you, Senator Biden. Do you support, as they do in Alaska, granting same-sex benefits to couples?

BIDEN: Absolutely. Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely, positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.

The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted -- same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera. That's only fair.

It's what the Constitution calls for. And so we do support it. We do support making sure that committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples do.

IFILL: Governor, would you support expanding that beyond Alaska to the rest of the nation?

PALIN: Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. And unfortunately that's sometimes where those steps lead.

But I also want to clarify, if there's any kind of suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves, you know, I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends and even within that group you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don't agree with me on this issue.

But in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.

But I will tell Americans straight up that I don't support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman, and I think through nuances we can go round and round about what that actually means.

But I'm being as straight up with Americans as I can in my non-support for anything but a traditional definition of marriage.

IFILL: Let's try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?

BIDEN: No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be left to the faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.

The bottom line, though is, and I'm glad to hear the Governor, I take her at her word, obviously, that she think there should be no civil rights distinction, none whatsoever, between a committed gay couple and a committed heterosexual couple. If that's the case, we really don't have a difference.

IFILL: Is that what your said?

PALIN: Your question to him was whether he supported gay marriage and my answer is the same as his and it is that I do not.


KING: Well, let's bring in our panel again. Donna Brazile, Gloria Borger and Ed Rollins.

Gloria, some discussion that her answer might not go over well with the evangelical base of the Republican Party.

BORGER: Right, right.

KING: Why?

BORGER: Well, because she was, I would say, more liberal than the evangelical base of the party on civil rights for gay couples. And also, if you notice in that question, she pulled back. She would only answer the question about gay marriage at the end when Gwen Ifill pushed her a little bit because it was clear that she was thinking, oops, maybe I've gone a little too far because Joe Biden and I actually agree on these things.

KING: On this issue, John McCain is no George W. Bush. It was a line in George W. Bush's stump speech.


KING: We will keep the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. John McCain has Dick Cheney's position that he does not believe in that, but believes that's a state's issue. And the federal government should get involved only if we get into a messy legal mumbo-jumbo, which we won't spend the time on right here. But is that a big difference in this campaign about the tone of the social issues debate?

ROLLINS: I think there's more tolerance in these two Republicans running than there has been in the past. And I think to a certain extent, that's very beneficial to the party long term. There are some that aren't going to be happy with that answer. There are some who basically don't want a tolerance for alternative lifestyle. Clearly, the marriage amendment is a very significant battleground in many places. But I think her position is what she believes and I think that's very important.

KING: He says beneficial to the party in the long term. I assume that you would agree with that position. But you know you're on the receiving end of campaigns in which the Bush-Rove strategy was based on getting every last evangelical vote. And this was an important issue, among the wedge issues they use, including some state ballot initiatives to gin up turnout among Christian conservatives. Is this a different Republican Party? And from your perspective, does John McCain deserve some credit?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, four years ago we saw eight ballot initiatives. And this initiative, the gay marriage proposal played a major role in helping the Bush-Cheney ticket energize their base, but also turned out even some Democrats to oppose the Democratic ticket, especially in the State of Ohio. As you know, we have several ballot initiatives this year, including one in California, one in John McCain's home state of Arizona. And I wish Gwen Ifill would have had some wiggle room to follow up on this question, because we could have really gotten to the true essence, and that is, do you support the ballot initiative in California.

We know that there are thousands of Americans, as we speak, you know, getting married, getting engaged. So, we didn't get a real answer from her. I thought she ducked this issue very well.

KING: Didn't get a real answer. But as a governor she does have to deal with the issues of benefits and the things that fall under state law.

BORGER: Absolutely. But, you know, she didn't say it's up to the states as she did with her answer to Katie Couric on the question of Roe versus Wade. So, you know, that was kind of interesting. But you know, you can't just win with the base of your party anymore. The evangelical voters, et cetera. That's why they have to reach out to these independent voters who are more open on these issues.

ROLLINS: I think the line in the sand is the marriage amendment. I think there are a lot of Americans, Republicans and Democrats, who are tolerant of different lifestyles and different life partners. And I think at the end of the day, though, that a marriage between a man and a woman now is the line. Just as on the pro-life, you could have rape and incest, life of the mother. McCain, I don't say wiggle room, but sort of the parameters that you ran in that picture, it's obvious she doesn't support that position.

KING: Also, I think a lot less discussion about all of these social issues when the economy has lost jobs nine months in a row.


KING: Up next, from "drill, baby drill" to "say it ain't so, Joe." Sarah Palin threw punches with a smile. Is her sparring style effective?

Also ahead, how much power does a vice president have according to the Constitution and how far should the job description go? Both candidates share their visions in their own words just ahead.


KING: Tens of millions of people watched the debate but success for either candidate will be measured by how well they reached those viewers as if they were talking one-on-one. Both spent much of the debate trying to make such a personal connection. Sarah Palin did it by dropping the "f" bomb, "f" as in folksy.


PALIN: Can I call you Joe?

BIDEN: You can call me Joe. PALIN: Thank you.

Darn right it was the predator lenders.

Joe six-pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together.

Darn right we need tax relief.

The chant is, drill, baby, drill.

Say it ain't so, Joe. There you go again pointing backwards again.


KING: Back now with the best political reporters on the planet. Indeed, in the galaxy. Dana Bash and Jessica Yellin.

Dana Bash, one of the goals was to get Sarah Palin back being Sarah Palin, if you will. Did they feel at least in that regard this was the woman they introduced in a surprise to the country who initially went over so well?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. There is no question about it. And I can tell you what they did in order to get her to this point. We know that she spent three days or so at John McCain's cabin by a creek, a beautiful setting. But it's not -- it wasn't just the setting that they used to try to relax her, John. They also cleared away a lot of the staff, a lot of the people who had been sort of going at with her on the plane, in hotel rooms, using flash cards, cramming her with information.

They said, you know, enough of that. They really just limited the number of people, a couple of top aides, a media coach, a debate coach, a speech coach, to try to get with her and to try to bring out what they called the real Sarah Palin and to try to make sure that those folksy lines really were used over and over again. They worked really hard on that, I'm told, and clearly she had it in her brain that she wanted to get across those words and she did.

KING: So, Jessica, I assume in the Obama camp they could see she's a charming woman, she's engaging, and she's an effective communicator as a politician. But beyond the style, do they think that helps her connect on the substance?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, they won't say it. They say that's up to the voters to decide if she passes the commander-in-chief test. And you can read into that, that they think she doesn't. I mean, the fundamental analysis here is that is she a person -- she obviously connects as a person. She obviously feels real. Unlike Joe Biden who feels like he knows his lines as a politician. She's got that energy that he doesn't have, the freshness.

But do voters want something more? Do they want a commander-in-chief, possibly a commander-in-chief who is more knowledgeable than they are; who knows more about policy than they do. And the Obama campaign clearly feels that she did not prove that she's more knowledgeable than your average American. Though they're not saying that, they imply it. And it's sort of an eye of the beholder analysis in the end. Some people love it, some people don't.

KING: So, let's look ahead. About ten seconds each, how do they use these candidates after the one and only V.P. debate, how do we see them on the trail on the final four weeks?


DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're told that she is going to do more media. We'll believe it when we see it. It's still unclear whether she'll actually do a press conference with the travelling press. But I think they're going to do exactly what they've been doing -- getting her out into those battleground areas, where they think that they can energize the base. And maybe, maybe pull over some of those conservative Democrats who are -- who are potentially not comfortable with Barack Obama. And maybe drawn to somebody like Sarah Palin.

KING: And Senator Biden, Jessica?

YELLIN: Biden will go into the bitter areas as he has been, and he'll talk to working folks. They think he's been very effective. The big win for them is Joe Biden. His wife has also been an effective campaigner and they plan to use her more, too.

KING: Jessica Yellin, Dana Bash, back to you again in just a moment.

We've been talking about Sarah Palin's demeanor, but behind it, there seems to be a fair amount of steely ambition. It emerge when moderator Gwen Ifill turn the discussion to how much power a vice president should have. Governor Palin raised a few eyebrows with her answer. And Joe Biden took it as an opening to pounce. It started out like, but watch just how it evolved.


GWEN IFILL, MODERATOR: Governor, you said in July that someone would have to explain to you exactly what it is the vice president does every day. You, senator, said, you would not be vice president under any circumstances. Now maybe this was just what was going on at the time. But tell us now, looking forward, what it is that you think the vice presidency is worth now.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: OK, in my comment there, it was a lame attempt at a joke and yours was a lame attempt at a joke, too, I guess, because nobody got it. Of course we know what a vice president does.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They didn't get yours or mine? Which one didn't they get?


PALIN: No, no. Of course, we know what a vice president does. And that's not only to preside over the Senate and will take that position very seriously also. I'm thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president also if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate, and making sure that we are supportive of the president's policies and making sure too that our president understands what our strengths are.

John McCain and I have had good conversations about where I would lead with his agenda. And that is energy independence in America and reform of government over all, and then working with families of children with special needs. That's near and dear to my heart also. And in those arenas, John McCain has already tapped me and said, that's where I want you, I want you to lead. And I said, I can't wait to get there and go to work with you.

IFILL: Senator?

BIDEN: With regard to the role of vice president, I had a long talk, as I'm sure the governor did with her principal, in my case with Barack. And let me tell you what Barack asked me to do. I have a history of getting things done in the United States Senate. John McCain would acknowledge that. My record shows that on controversial issues. I would be the point person for the legislative initiatives in the United States Congress for our administration.

I would also, when asked if I wanted a portfolio, my response was, no. But Barack Obama indicated to me he wanted me with him to help him govern. So every major decision he'll be making, I'll be sitting in the room to give him my best advice. He's president, not me, I'll give my best advice.

And one of the things he said early on when he was choosing, he said he would picked someone who had an independent judgment and wouldn't be afraid to tell him if he disagreed. That is sort of my reputation, as you know. So, I look forward to working with Barack and playing a very constructive role in his presidency, bringing about the kind of change this country needs.

IFILL: Governor, you mentioned a moment ago that the constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that is it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?

PALIN: Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position.

Yes, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we'll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.

IFILL: Vice President Cheney's interpretation of the vice presidency?

BIDEN: Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history. The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.

And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.

The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.


KING: Just ahead, looking ahead with the Best Political Team on Television, and the amazing map that makes it even better.


KING: A moment ago you heard Governor Palin chiding Senator Biden for obsessing as she saw it on the past. Well, we're certainly not about to get on her bad side right now. For the rest of the program, we're going to look ahead, and looking down the road to victory means looking one state at a time, because that's how you win the Electoral College.

As we said a bit earlier in the program, it takes 270 to win. CNN now projects Obama leads in states with 250 electoral votes, which puts him closer to the finish line. Senator McCain trailing at 189. As you look at the map here, the golden states or the tossup states as we go forward, and they include some big ones for Republicans. Ohio, 20 electoral votes. Missouri, 11 electoral votes. The State of Florida, always critical, 27 electoral votes. Other states rounding out the toss ups. So, for more perspective now on where we go from here, two of the best pollsters in the business -- Democrat Anna Greenberg, Republican Whit Ayres.

Whit, I want to start with you, because the challenge is John McCain's. If we' are having this conversation in a week or ten days, and you are able to make the case that John McCain has turned the tide, tell me where. Where in America, and I'm going to switch to a different map as we look, where in America will I know two weeks from now if John McCain has been able to turn the tide?

WHIT AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: John, there is a baker's dozen of states where the polling right now is within the margin of error. Most of them are only two or three points separating these two candidates. So if you start to see some movement in McCain's direction on any of those states, I think you can start to see him turning the corner here.

KING: Well, pick one where do you think --


AYRES: Missouri.

KING: Missouri, OK.

AYRES: Missouri is a great one to look at. It's a real tossup state. If he starts to open up a lead there, that's a good sign. Florida is a critical state for John McCain. Polling in recent days has shown it fairly close to even. But that's another must-win state for him. Ohio is a must-win state. And southeastern Ohio is one place where Sarah Palin could really help him. So that's another critical state. One that's farther -- somewhat more of a reach, but still within reach is Pennsylvania. Where I think Sarah Palin will really help, in Western Pennsylvania. That would be another great one.

Colorado is another one, along with Virginia, where McCain can do very well. Both are very, very close now. New Mexico is another one that's a little more of a reach. But there are a whole host of states where he could do well.

KING: So, Anna, let's flip the coin. If you're Barack Obama looking at the advantage you have right now, and I want to go back to our electoral map for this part of the discussion. If you're Barack Obama and you're looking at a menu of options, how do you put it away? How do you reach into what we would call the Red Basket, traditional republican states and say, John McCain, I win this, you can't win the White House. Where is it?

ANNA GREENBERG, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, obviously, Ohio has to be the number one state on that list. It's a state that's been competitive in the last two election cycles. It's a state where Barack Obama is actually now slightly ahead. I think we're going to see some polls that come out early next week that show him with an even bigger lead. But there are series of other states. Even if he loses Ohio, that really do put them there, and they're in reach.

Colorado is in reach. Virginia is in reach. And what we're seeing in Florida, shockingly, is in reach. Not a state that I think most people thought was going to be competitive. What's also interesting is there are a couple of states now that look very competitive that we never would have thought he could win. For instance, Indiana and North Carolina. So, I think Ohio is number one. But frankly, there are lots of ways to get there without Ohio.

KING: And help me understand, Whit, to you first, give me a community in America, the economy has what has change this election. The financial crisis on Wall Street, the debate about it in Washington has shifted this campaign toward Barack Obama. Where is there a community in America that is undergoing the economic pain that you would call a swing community, where Barack Obama and John McCain are fighting it out, and where John McCain needs to get the edge?

AYRES: I think southeastern Ohio was a good example, as is western Pennsylvania. The kinds of places where Barack Obama did very poorly against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Any of those areas are areas where John McCain could do very well against Barack Obama, and where it would help get him over the top in a swing state.

So, Anna, let me come -- let me visit in on that point where Barack Obama did poorly against Hillary Clinton. I'm showing it up here on the map in western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Eastern Ohio, Akron, down into southeast Ohio. And I'll zoom back out to bring you the entire state of Pennsylvania, you know where Joe Biden is from. You know how difficult it was for her in Scranton, Allentown.

What is Barack Obama doing to reach those voters, because if there is one Barack Obama weakness in the polling, it is that -- Hillary Clinton supporters and more conservative Democrats?

GREENBERG: Right. Well, I mean, first of all, he has Joe Biden out talking about the economy, and all of those areas. He also has some very effective advertising up right now that are of him in the camera for a minute and two minutes talking about the economy. We know from the research that we've done this day, there's no better messenger for Barack Obama than Barack Obama.

So I think speaking directly to these folks about the economy, I would just want to add, though, what we've seen is some real movement in those areas towards Obama. Well, take a state like Michigan. Hillary Clinton who wasn't contested but she won that state. It's a tough state. Everybody thought that was one of John McCain's best chances for a pickup.

Michigan is now about a seven or eight-point lead for Obama and McCain has gone off the air. So, we have some indications in some areas where I think McCain thought he would compete for those disaffected Hillary voters, those blue collar voters. We've seen actually those going off the map for John McCain.

KING: As you can see going state by state. The numbers do have a lot to say, and a lot more to say about who won this debate, who came off more like a politician. Who is the candidate of change? We'll talk about all that next as we continue to debate the debate.


KING: The one and only vice presidential debate, now history. The principles square off next in Nashville. Then, it's on to Long Island for the third presidential debate. A lot to look forward to. A lot to talk about as we enter the final month of this campaign. And certainly, a lot of drama for us to cover. Back with us, pollsters -- Democrat Anna Greenburg and Republic Whit Ayres. From the trail, Dana Bash and Jessica Yellin. Also, three members of the Best Political Team on Television -- Ed Rollins, Gloria Borger and Donna Brazile with us for some final thoughts.

Let me start, Dana with you. A month ago, John McCain trails when you look at this map, the Electoral College. Put the jigsaw puzzle together briefly. And how they think a week or 10 days from they can change the conversation to say McCain is back in the race.

BASH: Well, you know, I've got to tell you that one of the most interesting pieces of news that we got at week's end wasn't necessarily about the debate, it was about that map, and about the fact that the McCain campaign decided to pull all of its resources, all of its staff and all of its money from the State of Michigan. So, what that means tactically is that they have a very, very narrow margin of error in terms of the map.

But in terms of the substance, I think the other thing that has been absolutely unbelievable is that the morning after the debate, what we got in our BlackBerries, if you cut through all of the spam about the spin saying that they won, was a statement from John McCain acknowledging this bad jobs report. The worst cut in jobs in five years.

That is something that is absolutely sobering. And it's going to be -- it's already been the biggest challenge for the McCain campaign to try to overcome this bad economic news. But it was one more reminder that despite all this talk about the debate, that it is that issue that is going to make or break this campaign at least unless something changes. And that is entirely possible given the way this campaign has gone.

KING: Well, Jessica Yellin, jumping on that point. 159,000 jobs lost last month. Nine consecutive months the United States economy has lost jobs. I assume what we hear from now until the end, including the big debate Tuesday night, round two is Bush-McCain, Bush-McCain, Bush-McCain is to blame?

YELLIN: Yes. Bush-McCain and their failed economic policies -- do you want more of the same. We've heard it before. We are going to hear it drummed in. And to follow up on what Dana said, the fact that John McCain is pulling out of Michigan is so cheering to the Obama campaign, because that is a state that's voting on the economy. And to them it means that Barack Obama's economic message is penetrating. John McCain is not winning on that issue on the substance. And this is great news for them. They think that their message is connecting and they just want to drive it home.

KING: Well, Whit Ayers, jump in on that point. Forget the names for a minute. Can any Republican candidate for president win in the eighth year of a Republican administration when the economy has lost jobs nine months in a row, and the Republican candidate has decided he's not going to compete right here, Macomb County, home of the Reagan Democrats. Voters shaped by the economy. How does the Republican win in that environment? AYRES: Well, we've known all along that the playing field leans toward Barack Obama and the Democrats. But a couple of quick points, John. First of all, the lead that Barack Obama has today over John McCain is almost identical to the lead that George Bush had over Al Gore one week before the 2000 election. That one ended up a tie.

Secondly, the most important issue is the economy. That's very clear. But people vote on a lot of things other than issues. They vote on character, on leadership, on values, on ideology, and on those dimensions John McCain is much closer to most Americans than Barack Obama. So this thing is a long way from over and could stay very close.

KING: John McCain is a lot closer to most Americans than Barack Obama. Anna Greenburg, I assume in the end you expect to hear liberal culturally, liberal economically, not like you, can't take this risk.

GREENBERG: Right, but --

KING: How does Barack Obama counter that?

GREENBERG: Right. Big government, pork, pork, pork. Well, first of all I just want to address the issue of character here. It is true that people vote on other issues besides the economy, though that is absolutely dominant. But there are a couple of things that have happened over the last two weeks that have actually moved things in Obama's direction around leadership, and not just on economic issues.

In fact, that's been moving sort of more slowly in his direction, but on issues of national security, being sort of calm in the face of a crisis, and so I agree with Whit. You know, it's more than just issues. You know, character matters, too. What we've seen is post the debate that Obama has made up serious ground on all sorts of measures of leadership and honesty.

KING: Ed Rollins you work for the guy who brought us the name Reagan Democrats. When you look at this campaign, and John McCain sitting a state like Michigan, morale in the Republican Party in that state was pretty down when word of that came out late this week.

How does John McCain get back in the economic message and reach out to those union members, the disaffected Clinton voters? How does John McCain touch them like Ronald Reagan did?

ROLLINS: Well, first of all, that was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen in a campaign. To wave a white flag in a very critical state. It sends a message to other states that are battleground states. We're now down fighting on our turf, fighting on turf that Bush won and not trying to expand the base.

John McCain has got to basically really rack it up. What he has to understand is that this baby is not about him versus Barack Obama. Barack Obama has become a brand. And it's a brand for -- at whole new Washington. And I think Hillary tried to beat him one-on-one and couldn't do it. And I think that John McCain saying I'm a better leader, I'm a better this, I'm a better that. What he has to convince voters is that change may be positive, but in this particular case, the Barack brand is going to be an unhealthy change. It's going to be a dangerous change in this very difficult time. And I think that's the only thing he can do it. And only he can do it. Palin can't do it. Surrogates can't do it. He has to do it. He has to convince people he is different.

KING: To some extent, Gloria Borger, four weeks is a lot of time. But the way the map and the way the polling has changed over the past ten days or so -- is Tuesday night a critical firewall moment for John McCain?

BORGER: Yes. I think Tuesday night is very important. The format is going to be interesting. It's a town hall that is John McCain's strength. But you know, John, I think back to where we were this summer.

When the McCain campaign was running the celebrity ads -- remember the like, Britney Spears celebrity, Barack Obama is a celebrity. When you think back to that, A, that seems just a little light for the tenor of the times we are living in now, and B, they were trying to make this a referendum on Barack Obama. And now, it's a referendum on the economy. And the shifting of that ground has been very, very tough for them. Very tough.

KING: And so, Donna, take us back in time, Democrats have a rap, fairly or unfairly, but they don't close well. Al Gore had a striking chance to win in 2000, didn't. Let's not revisit the Supreme Court, thank you very much. John Kerry was competitive for much of 2004, but it broke in the end for the Republican George W. Bush. How does this Democrat do it differently and finish right?

GREENBERG: Well, first of all, I think that Senator Obama's message of change, of providing a country with a plan to get us out of this economic mess will help him. He's also expanded the electorate.

Over the past two years, Senator Obama has registered millions of new voters across the country. One of the things you can't pick up with polling information is all of these newly registered energized people. And as you well know, John, in several states across the country right now, people are already participating in this early voting program. So I think Obama, a message combined with mobilization, will help him get the 270 electoral votes he needs to win this election.

KING: So, Jessica Yellin, if they have the ground game like no Democrat has ever had, they have the money like no Democrat in our lifetime has had, and now they have a debate Tuesday night in which Barack Obama can make progress. Maybe not seal the deal, but he is ahead right now. How does Barack Obama -- what is his biggest priority heading into Tuesday night's debate?

YELLIN: He has to make that one-on-one connection with people that we saw Hillary Clinton start to do at the end of the primary season where she was talking about specific nurses. She named someone, and her particular situation, and how she would address that.

Barack Obama is a little bit cool and aloof. He stays above it. He needs to have that sort of really visceral connection to the average voter to really swing those people in the middle, and then stay charming and not aggressive the way he was in the last debate.

KING: So, Dana Bash, John McCain want a ten town halls with Barack Obama. He is going to get one, and it is going to come Tuesday night, four weeks, 28 days to Election Day. Huge challenge for a guy who says he loves being the underdog. The hill couldn't be any steeper. Does he come in with new policy?

BASH: You know, actually, I have been trying to find that out. It doesn't seem as though that is really on the agenda for him right now. They are going to try to do actually something similar to what Jessica was describing on the Obama side.

They're going to try to take advantage of what we described as his, really his playground, the town hall. He had 101 of them in New Hampshire as he likes to remind us. It is something that he feels comfortable in doing. But the fact that he is going to be able to talk to real people in this setting, that is going to be his opportunity to actually not talk to them, but connect with them in a way that no matter how much his campaign has tried to put him in these settings with workers, had been in Michigan, not anymore, or elsewhere, he just doesn't made that connection. So, seems as though that is what they're going for right now. But the McCain campaign, they like to surprise us. So, we'll see.

KING: Whit and Anna, just a snap shot, 15 or seconds or so, on the state of public opinion heading into this critical moment, have we reached the tipping point in this campaign? Ladies first, Anna?

GREENBERG: Well, I think we see the national polls with a pretty solid lead for Obama, about a six-point lead. But what's much more important is if you look across the battleground states, he also has a five, six-point lead. So, he's got leads in individual states, but lead across a very Republican looking battleground, I think things look very good right now. I'm trying to imagine what John McCain is going to do in this debate to turn things around.

KING: Whit?

AYRES: John, Barack Obama, given the state of the country and the lay of the land should be ahead by 15 percentage points. The fact that he has not sends a real message, that there are reservations about Barack Obama as the next president, there's a real hope for Republicans in that.

KING: All right. I want to thank everybody involved here. Jessica Yellin, Dana Bash, Whit Ayres, Anna Greenberg, Ed Rollins, Gloria Borger, Donna Brazile, a fabulous team. Appreciate your time and patience with me here today. And next on the agenda, the presidential debate in Nashville. It's Tuesday night. Watch it right here on CNN.

That does it now for us. But for all of us here in the CNN Election Center, thanks for spending some time with us today. I'm John King. We'll see you again soon.