The game plan

THE GAME PLAN…. In advance of tonight’s vice presidential debate, both campaigns are, not surprisingly, playing the expectations game. As we talked about yesterday, the Obama campaign has been aggressively pushing the line that Sarah Palin has excelled in all of her previous debates in Alaska. Today, the McCain campaign’s line was, well, different.

This morning, for example, the McCain campaign unveiled an “ad” that went after Joe Biden for a variety of verbal gaffes. The ad was pretty effective at mocking Biden and making him appear foolish, but at this point, the McCain campaign probably should be trying to raise expectations for Biden, not lower them.

As for what to expect from Palin, the new line from the McCain campaign is that she’s confused and uninformed, but that’s a good thing, because “regular people” are confused and uninformed, too.

Listening to surrogates and aides to John McCain on Thursday, one is left with the impression that there is no great need for Gov. Sarah Palin to actually answer questions during tonight’s vice presidential debate.

Indeed, the spin coming from McCain surrogates and strategists is that Palin has to do is pass a sort of artificial personality test, in which she strikes an emotional thread with the average voter — question, answers, or intellectual capacity be damned.

Such were the talking points mere hours before the debate in St. Louis, which peaked with Sen. Joe Lieberman — a man not unaccustomed to the pressures of such a forum — actually proclaiming that Palin’s relative ignorance helped her relate to “regular people.”

“She’s not lived in the world of Washington, so she doesn’t know every detail of all the questions senators deal with,” Lieberman told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “But, frankly, that’s her strength. I think that’s why a lot of regular people out across America think she’s going to be their voice.”

Mitchell noted that Palin would be one heartbeat from the presidency, so she may need skills that exceed “just being an average mom.” But Lieberman doesn’t see it that way, insisting that what matters tonight is who she is “as a person,” not her ability to “answer every detailed question.”

Sounds like a rather predictable way of setting expectations, doesn’t it? If Palin can speak in complete sentences, Republicans can say, “See? She’s smarter than everyone expected.” If she’s incoherent, Republicans can say, “See? She connected with voters on an emotional level. Only eggheads care about having competent people in positions of power and authority.”

As for Palin herself, Mike Allen reports that the governor “plans to go on the attack in tonight’s debate, hitting Joe Biden for what she will call his foreign policy blunders and penchant for adopting liberal positions on taxes and other issues.”

It’s bound to be interesting.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.