Is Sarah Palin just playing dumb?

A few hours before the V.P. debate, Democrats point reporters to 2006 clips showing a poised, confident Sarah Palin in previous encounters. Will she surprise the world tonight?

By Mike Madden
Published October 2, 2008 11:04PM (EDT)

Could the halting, bumbling Sarah Palin of the last few weeks be part of an elaborate rope-a-dope scheme to lower expectations for her performance tonight? After all, she's looked so bad lately that it might be all she has to do tonight is show up in order to hit the magic "better than expected" mark with a lot of viewers.

Some Democrats may be worried that reporters watching tonight will be grading her on a gentle curve. The Democratic National Committee e-mailed the press a little while ago with a highlight reel of her performance in debates in the 2006 Alaska governor's race. You wouldn't recognize her -- she's relaxed, confident and in control of facts and details. When her opponents attack her, she doesn't get rattled, and she manages to punch back in a friendly way that leaves the other guy unsettled. (Admittedly, she's not being interrogated by the, ahem, shockingly biased Gwen Ifill, as she will tonight.)

Compare that with what we've seen on CBS recently, where the frightening specter of Katie Couric left Palin unable to speak in complete sentences and barely capable of managing subject-verb agreement, and you do start to wonder if she's been trying to sandbag Joe Biden by feigning even less competence than she's actually got. The problem, of course, is that if that is the plan, she's succeeded beyond the McCain campaign's wildest dreams; now about a third of voters say Palin makes them less likely to vote for McCain.

Take a look at the clips here, and let us know below what you think. Will Palin suddenly improve tonight, or are her glory days as a debater behind her?

Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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