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Campaign Spotlight Shifts Back to Obama, McCain After VP Debate

The two U.S. vice presidential candidates, Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin, are both getting generally positive reviews following their only debate Thursday in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington, the campaign spotlight is quickly shifting back to the two presidential nominees, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

Political experts say vice presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden had different missions in their debate.

For Alaska Governor Palin, it was an opportunity to win back some supporters after a shaky performance in a recent television interview.

"And, I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I am going to talk straight to the American people, and let them know my track record," she said.

Recent polls have shown Palin's popularity waning, and Republicans said she needed a credible performance in the debate to stop the decline.

Senator Biden had a different mission in the debate. Biden has 36 years experience as a senator, and is very knowledgeable about domestic and foreign policy. But Biden can be unpredictable in debates, and some Democrats worried he would come across as patronizing to the less experienced Palin.

Instead, Biden focused on criticizing John McCain and on linking McCain with the policies of the Bush administration.

"The issue is, how different is John McCain's policy going to be than George Bush's?," he said.

Voter reaction to the debate seemed to break down along party lines.

Democrats praised Biden's experience, while Republicans raved about Palin's ability to connect with average Americans.

"Sarah Palin won because she did a really good job of sparring with Biden, and he was definitely the favorite coming in," said a voter.

"It highlighted Sarah Palin's complete lack of understanding for both domestic and foreign issues, and highlighted Joe Biden's depth," said another voter.

"Joe Biden won this debate because he was much more articulate and I was a little concerned with Palin's lack of grasp of some of the issues," said the other one.

"I think she did a great job on foreign policy," said another one. "I think she did a great job talking about the economy and the importance of tax breaks."

McCain supporters were clearly pleased with Palin's performance. Recent polls had suggested she was beginning to hurt the Republican ticket.

"I thought she did an absolutely great job, when you consider the pressure that was on her to perform well," said former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. "I think she gave the American people a real indication of why John McCain selected her."

Democratic activists were equally happy with Senator Biden's effort.

Donna Brazile managed Al Gore's presidential campaign in the 2000 election.

"Overall, Joe Biden connected with middle class undecided voters and he reassured them that Senator Obama has the plan to get us out of this mess," she said.

Some early polls by the CNN and CBS television networks gave the edge to Biden. A CNN poll found 51 percent of those asked thought Biden had won, compared to 36 percent for Palin. But the same poll said 54 percent thought Palin was more likable, compared to 36 percent for Biden.

The CBS survey results were announced by Anthony Salvanto.

"By a 2-to-1 margin, they said Biden had come out on top, 46 percent naming Biden, 21 percent saying it was Palin's victory, and one third called it a draw," he said.

Experts say there was a lot more interest than usual in this vice presidential debate, because of the involvement of Governor Palin.

University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato says, those looking for a stumble on her part were disappointed.

"People tuned into this debate to see a car crash, and there wasn't one," he said.

The campaign spotlight now shifts back to the two presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

Recent polls show Obama surging into a lead over McCain, largely because of voter concerns about the economy and who they feel would better be able to deal with it.

The McCain campaign has also decided to cease its activities in the key battleground state of Michigan, apparently believing Obama's lead there is too large to overcome.

McCain hopes to regain some momentum in the final two presidential debates, scheduled for October 7 and October 15.