"Debates proved twinkle trumps facts"

Andrew Halcro is a former Republican legislator who ran for governor in 2006 as an Independent. He participated in debates with Sarah Palin and another candidate. His commentary is very interesting. It was published in the Anchorage Daily News. Here’s an excerpt:

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

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

While public policy wonks might cringe, the fact was that Sarah Palin was simply vocalizing her biggest campaign strength without realizing it. During the campaign, from January to November, Palin’s message on important public policy issues never evolved — because it didn’t have to. Her ability to fill the debate halls with her presence and her gift of the glittering generality made it possible for her to rely on populism instead of policy.

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

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

We’ll see how she does – I’m hoping she’ll give Tina Fey some ideas for her next skit on SNL.

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