Driving home from work, I heard Jeff Greenfield from CBS - a guy whose work I appreciate and a reporter I respect - talk about potential pratfalls leading into Thursday night's one-and-done vice presidential debate.
The key, Greenfield said, for Gov. Sarah Palin was to avoid coming off as clueless and out of the loop (that's my summary, not his exact words). Sen. Joe Biden could not afford any mean-spirited sarcasm or his occasional loose cannon-ness (again, my summary).
And he was absolutely right.
As it turned out, neither did.
I watched the debate with Greenfield's words in the back of my mind. And then it hit me: If he, a reporter, knew this, wouldn't it seem that the campaigns were aware of this as well?
Palin came off as in the know, though her continued unwillingness to expand on the topic at hand was annoying. Biden came off as a thoroughly respectable person, not one who reluctantly participated as if it were beneath him - though Palin was right in that Biden and Barack Obama seem more interested in badmouthing the Bush administration (which does deserve a fair amount of badmouthing) than showing us how they'd do it differently.
Which, I'm sure, is precisely what the campaigns wanted.
It's hard to imagine a scenario in which Palin, during debate prep, wasn't lectured over and over that she could ill afford to look squeamish or unprepared to answer. It's hard to imagine Biden, during debate prep, wasn't lectured over and over that he could not have a slip-up. As much as he may have wanted to, he simply could not blow his top.
It's like the venerable John Chaney used to say about his team: The guys he coached against were smart enough and their staffs were smart enough that they knew as much about his team he did. If his Owls couldn't rebound worth a damn, the opposition knew that. If they were turnover prone, those opponents would know that too.
If a guy like Greenfield knows these things about the candidates, you're damn tootin' the campaigns know it. Again, that's not a knock on Greenfield; but in the end, he's just a reporter.
The campaigns know better.
On Thursday, nothing was going to be left to chance.