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Before Next McCain-Obama Debate, Palin and Biden Take Their Turn

A look at Thursday night's vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. Also, the modern history of presidential debates. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Americans are a month from elections on November fourth. This week the vice presidential candidates of the two major parties met for their only debate.

JOE BIDEN: "For John McCain, there is no end in sight to end this war. Fundamental difference: we will end this war."

SARAH PALIN: "Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq, and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that's for sure."

Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Joe Biden dealt with war, the economy and other issues. Their debate Thursday night produced unusual attention but no major mistakes. That seemed especially important for the Alaska governor after recent difficulties with television news interviews.

The presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, met last Friday for their first of three debates. One of the strongest exchanges took place over what to do about Iran. Senator McCain attacked his opponent's position about meeting with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

JOHN McCAIN: "What Senator Obama does not seem to understand is that if, without precondition, you sit down across the table from someone who has called Israel a stinking corpse and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map, you legitimize those comments. This is dangerous. It is not just naive, it is dangerous."

Senator Obama answered by saying he would meet with any foreign leader if he believed it would make the United States more secure.

BARACK OBAMA: "Now, understand what this means, meeting without preconditions. It does not mean that you invite them over for tea one day. What it means is that we do not do what we have been doing, which is to say, until you agree to do exactly what we say, we will not have direct contacts with you."

Professor Wayne Fields is an expert on presidential speech at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri. He points out that in a debate, the candidate who makes better arguments is not necessarily the winner in the eyes of the public. He says voters often base judgments on what they hear in the debate combined with what they read later in commentaries.

The first official presidential debate was in nineteen sixty between Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy. Many watching TV saw Kennedy as the winner. Nixon was better received among radio listeners, but went on to lose the election.

Vice presidential debates began in nineteen seventy-six but did not become regular events until nineteen eighty-four. That year, Vice President George H. W. Bush debated New York Representative Geraldine Ferraro. She is the only woman other than Sarah Palin ever to be on a major-party presidential ballot.

In nineteen eighty-eight, the vice presidential debate was between Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle. People remember when Senator Quayle was asked if he had a plan in case he had to replace George H. W. Bush as president.

DAN QUAYLE: "I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency. I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration if that unfortunate event would ever occur."

MODERATOR: "Senator Bentsen."

LLOYD BENTSEN: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."

But Dan Quayle was the one who became vice president.

The last two debates between Barack Obama and John McCain are this Tuesday and on October fifteenth.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Bob Doughty.