Palin, Biden spar on economic crisis

Gov. Sarah Palin said in campaign debate Thursday night that John McCain would “put partisanship aside” to help solve the nation’s economic crisis. Democrat Joe Biden countered that Wall Street had run wild during eight years of Republican rule in the White House.

Palin, the Alaska governor, said GOP presidential candidate McCain had sounded the alarm years ago about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two now-disgraced mortgage industry giants, but other lawmakers had ignored his warnings. Biden, her Democratic counterpart, saw it differently, saying McCain’s first words after the crisis erupted were, “The fundamentals of the economy are strong.”

The vice presidential candidates debated on a stage at Washington University. The men at the tops of the major party tickets, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. McCain, watched on television from hotel suites on the campaign trail.

The event was the only vice presidential debate of the campaign. Obama and McCain debated last week, and will meet twice more Tuesday and Oct. 15.

After that, it’s a three-week sprint to Election Day in a race that lately has tilted Obama’s way as the economic crisis moves to the forefront of the campaign.

Palin, who has been governor of her state less than two years, was under intense pressure to demonstrate a strong grasp of the issues as she stepped onto the stage. Polls show the public has become increasingly skeptical of her readiness for high public office.

She displayed her trademark smile and feistiness in the opening moments of the debate as she sought to establish a connection with working class voters.

“Go to a kids’ soccer game on Saturday and turn to any parent on the sideline, and I bet you you’re going to hear fear in that parent’s voice,” she said when asked about the economic crisis. As is her custom on the campaign, she spoke in familiar terms, saying “betcha” rather than “bet you” and “gonna” rather than “going to.”

Biden’s burden was not nearly as fundamental. Although he has long held a reputation for long-windedness, he is a 35-year veteran in the Senate, with a strong knowledge of foreign policy and domestic issues.

The two debated for 90 minutes with little more than one month remaining in the campaign and McCain struggling to regain his footing. Republican officials disclosed earlier in the day he was conceding the battleground state of Michigan to Obama. The state voted Democratic four years ago, but McCain had spent millions trying to place it in his column.

“Can I call you Joe?” Palin said to the older man as they shook hands at the outset of the debate.

Biden approved.

Moments later, moderator Gwen Ifill posed the first question and the debate unfolded in traditional vice presidential fashion, as the running mates praised their own presidential candidate while denigrating the other.

Palin said Obama had voted to raise taxes 94 times, an allegation Biden disputed and then countered. By the same reckoning, he said, McCain voted “477 times to raise taxes.”

They clashed over energy policy, as well, when Palin said Obama’s vote for a Bush administration-backed bill granted breaks to the oil industry. By contrast, she said that as governor, she had stood up to the same industry, and noted McCain had voted against the bill Obama supported.

Biden said that in the past decade, McCain had voted “20 times against funding alternative energy sources and thinks, I guess, the only answer is drill, drill, drill.”