Debate Preview

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 12:54 PM EDT

DEBATE PREVIEW....The LA Times heads to Alaska to find out how Sarah Palin is likely to do in tomorrow's debate:

As she began her run for governor of Alaska, Palin repeatedly proved difficult to prep for a debate, recalled her two former political aides, who had pivotal roles during her campaign but declined to be identified because of their continuing involvement in Alaska politics.

Palin, the former aides said, had a sharply limited attention span for absorbing the facts and policy angles required for all-topics debate preparation. Staffers were rarely able to get her to sit for more than half an hour of background work at a time before her concentration waned, hindered by cellphone calls and family affairs. "We were always fighting for her attention," said one of the aides.

But — you knew there was a but coming, didn't you? — apparently she's a fast learner:

By the final key televised debate in late October, Palin had grown used to the format, her aides and rivals recalled. Still using index cards, she was breezily confident in her back-and-forth with Halcro and former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles.

....Larry Persily, a panelist questioner in the campaign's final televised debate, said Palin flummoxed her rivals "like Muhammad Ali dancing around the ring." She avoided statements and tough questions that could have impaled her and repeatedly stung her opponents. And Palin, a former sportscaster, was easily the most comfortable in front of the camera. "She knows television," said Persily, who participated in other debates and has watched Palin closely for years. "She knows how to look at her interviewer."

The good news for Joe Biden, then is (a) she doesn't prep very well, and (b) she doesn't get a series of debates this time, just the one. So if she stumbles out of the gate there's no time for her to improve. The bad news is that she might just wow everyone with her index cards anyway.

Bottom line: Tomorrow we'll either see Dr. Jekyll or Mrs. Hyde. Should be an edge-of-your-seat performance either way.

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