John McCain, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin all had a chance to score some points with a national audience on Thursday night. More often than not, though, McCain and Palin came up badly short, leaving plenty of space for Obama to win the night.
All three were interviewed for network news broadcasts. McCain and Obama each hit all of networks, while CBS News broadcast the second segment of Palin's interview with Katie Couric.
The Palin-Couric sitdown was memorable for how badly Palin performed. Though Couric didn't really come at the Republican vice-presidential nominee with any of the potential traps ABC News' Charlie Gibson did for his interview with her, Palin still managed to come off poorly on her own. She fumbled an effort to justify her previous claim that Russia's proximity to Alaska counts as foreign policy credentials. Palin's voice shook, and she was once again Miss South Carolina Teen USA.
Though she met with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger earlier this week, Palin managed to badly misrepresent his position on negotiations with countries like Iran and Syria. Then, when asked why she didn't get a passport until last year, Palin responded:
I'm not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and say go off and travel the world.
No, I've worked all my life. In fact, I usually had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of, I guess, that culture. The way that I have understood the world is through education, through books, through mediums that have provided me a lot of perspective on the world.
It probably wasn't a bad answer, politically, but it certainly came off as cynical, calculated to make her look like a normal person under attack from coastal elites.
Meanwhile, on ABC News, McCain was asked whether he'd participate in Friday night's presidential debate, as scheduled. He responded by trying to shift some blame onto Obama, saying, "I understand that there is a lot of attention on this but I also wish Senator Obama had agreed to 10 or more town hall meetings that I had asked him to attend with me. Wouldn't be quite that much urgency if he agreed to do that, instead he refused to do it."
NBC's coverage relied heavily on -- CBS. NBC introduced McCain by showing David Letterman's late-night smackdown. McCain had failed to show for an interview with Letterman scheduled for Wednesday night, and Letterman had mocked him on air. NBC used a clip of Letterman saying, "This is not the way a tested hero behaves." McCain then materialized on the screen, standing before a peach-colored backdrop, looking shaky and stunned. Anchor Brian Williams opened by noting to McCain that Democrats had called his campaign suspension a stunt, and that the Arizona senator's own surrogates had kept attacking Obama during the alleged suspension. "Are you happy with how you played this?" asked Williams.
When Williams tried to play a clip of Obama, the clip malfunctioned, and he had to lean on CBS again. After Williams asked Chuck Todd what it all meant -- "Governor Palin has had a very tough 10 days," said Todd -- the Obama clip was ready to roll.
What first looked like a problem for Obama turned out to be a blessing. After McCain's meandering and Palin's flop sweat, all the Democrat had to do was manage complete sentences. In a blue tie, before a blue backdrop, he looked as calm and assured as he did when debating the dotty Alan Keyes prior to his landslide victory in their 2004 race for the Senate. "It's amazing how much people can get done," Obama said, "when folks aren't interested in taking credit or passing blame."