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US Vice Presidential Candidates Palin, Biden Set to Face Off in Debate

Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat are set to face off in a much-anticipated vice presidential debate Thursday night in St. Louis, Missouri. Voters are likely to be especially focused on Alaska Governor Palin, a newcomer to the national stage who has electrified many in her party but has also had some shaky moments in recent interviews. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

An interview that aired this week with CBS television news anchor Katie Couric has attracted a lot of attention because of a couple of questions Governor Palin seemed unable to answer. Palin replied to a question from Couric on which newspapers and magazines she liked to read to stay informed.

"I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media," Palin told Couric.

"But like, what ones specifically, " Couric asked.

"All of them, any of them," Palin responded.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday shows that six in 10 Americans now doubt Palin's qualifications to serve as president in the event McCain wins the election and something happened to him. The poll reflects a steep decline in Palin's popularity, after she initially gave a big boost to Republican nominee John McCain.

McCain strongly defended Palin in a meeting with the Des Moines Register newspaper earlier this week. He was asked why voters should have confidence in Palin's ability to succeed him as president if it should become necessary.

"With due respect, I strongly disagree with your premise that she does not have experience and knowledge and background," McCain said. "I fundamentally disagree and I am proud of her record. And it is not an accident that she is the most popular governor in America."

Some analysts say this will be Palin's chance to show she is ready for the national stage, and that this debate, the only vice presidential debate in this election, could be a defining moment for her political career.

"Having been thrown into national politics with almost no preparation, now there is this enormous spotlight on her and she has got to live up to a pretty high standard, what people expect of someone playing in that league," said Bruce Miroff, a political expert at the State University of New York at Albany.

Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware faces different challenges in the debate. He has had years of foreign policy experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But he is famous for his verbal gaffes and for talking too much. University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato compares and contrasts the two vice presidential candidates.

"Biden knows a great deal after 36 years in the Senate, but most people can take him only in small doses," Sabato noted. "Sarah Palin is a very pleasant and likable individual, and she knows very little, especially about foreign policy."

Speaking to reporters on the campaign trail, Biden said he was preparing for this debate just like any other.

"I go into every debate assuming that in fact, the person I am debating is as smart as I am, and is as tough as I am, and knows as much as I do," Biden said.

Several Democratic lawmakers and strategists have cautioned that Palin was indeed a tough and formidable debater in her successful 2006 campaign to become Alaska's governor. Some analysts, like Larry Sabato, also point out that vice presidential debates rarely change voters' minds, and that, in the end, the focus will shift back to Democratic nominee Barack Obama and Republican nominee John McCain. Several polls released this week show Obama opening up a significant lead over McCain.