Opinion: Sarah Palin couldn’t remember Joe Biden’s name -- and other debate prep tidbits from Steve Schmidt

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Remember that vice presidential debate in 2008, when then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said to then-Sen. Joe Biden, ‘Hey, can I call you Joe?’

Well, it turns out that the Republican candidate for vice president couldn’t remember Biden’s name. Palin kept crossing his name with presidential candidate Barack Obama’s, calling him O’Biden.


Palin has already confessed to this reflexive habit, recalling on page 289 of her memoir:

During rehearsals, I accidently called Randy “Senator O’Biden” — a slip of the tongue combination of Obama and Biden. The blunder struck too often, even tripping up campaign staffers. (Jay Leno later made the same slip on his new talk show, so we were in good company.) We laughed about it but knew that if I said it even once during the debate, it would be disastrous. Then somebody said, “You ought to just call him Joe.” ... So that’s what we decided I would do. We had no idea my mic would already be hot when I walked onstage, crossed over to his turf, and said, “Can I call you Joe?” The “expert” post-debate analysis was that my question was a cleverly devised strategy to disarm my opponent. Yeah, right.

Now, Steve Schmidt, campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, is adding new details to the back story.

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In an interview to air Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Schmidt said a member of the team that was helping Palin prepare for the debate called to alert him that Palin was not focused or engaged and that the debate could prove ‘a debacle of historic and epic proportions.’ Schmidt said he talked to Palin about the concern, and she agreed that things were not going very well. [Updated at 7:54 a.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Randy Scheunemann, who played Biden during Palin’s debate prep, alerted Schmidt.]

As for the Biden name issue, Schmitt said, “It was multiple people — and I wasn’t one of them — who all said at the same time, ‘Just say, ‘Can I call you Joe,’’ which she did.”

-- Johanna Neuman

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