VP debate: Liveblog from a women voters’ focus group

(Photos/World Economic Forum and earthpro, Flickr)

(Photos/World Economic Forum and earthpro, Flickr)


The historic vice presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden tonight will likely impact how women voters lean in the 2008 election. Women’s Voices. Women Vote., a D.C. organization devoted to increasing voter participation among unmarried women, is hosting a focus group in Denver tonight to gage female reactions to the debate. Forty-two women have gathered in a downtown Denver office to watch the debate and then answer questions in two focus groups. They’ve been directed not to speak during the event, but here at The Colorado Independent, we’ll assess their on-the-spot reactions to Palin and Biden by watching their facial expressions. After the debate, they’ll split into two groups of unmarried and married women, answering questions about both candidates’ behavior and what it means for their votes. Read on for the liveblog.

7:03 p.m. – Joe Biden says he’s going to change the way the economy operates. The women in the room are watching, arms crossed without much emotion.

7:06 p.m. – Sarah Palin says she has a track record of reform, and says that Americans are ready for a change. One woman starts to write furiously on a pad of paper; the women are asked to take notes on anything they find interesting.

7:11 p.m. – Biden speaks about the overwhelming deregulation, mentioning that John McCain wants to deregulate the health care industry. Biden tells the story of someone who can’t afford fill up their gas tank. Several women shake their heads back and forth.

7:13 p.m. – Palin says she going to engage in a little straight talk about keeping taxes low. The women in the room look skeptical.

7:16 p.m. – Biden talks about Obama’s tax break for 95 percent of Americans. A few of the women in the room pick up their pencils to jot down notes.

7:18 p.m. – Palin talks about how she and husband Todd fit into the middle class, and that raising taxes hurts families like hers. One woman in the group raises her eyebrows as if she’s surprised at the personal tenor of the comment.

7:21 p.m. – Biden says that education is the key to keeping our economy strong. The women’s eyes are fixed on the television.

7:23 p.m. – Palin says that her area of expertise is energy. One woman puts her finger to her lips in thought.

7:25 p.m. – Palin says that there is a “toxic mess” on Wall Street. Several women write on their notepads.

7:28 p.m. – The women in the room were picked from Denver voter lists, chosen for this project because they didn’t demonstrate strong feelings toward the Obama-Biden or the McCain-Palin ticket. Interestingly enough, most of the women appear to be middle-aged and most of them are white.

7:32 p.m. – Biden says that one of the biggest differences between his ticket and Palin’s is the fact that he believes that climate change is caused by man. Palin, on the other hand, hedged on the same question, saying it is likely caused by man and natural factors. Several women take note.

7:34 p.m. – Palin says that the Obama-Biden ticket has said “no to everything” when it comes to exploring domestic drilling. One woman in the room smiles.

7:36 p.m. – Biden says that there will be no difference in constitutional benefits for gay and heterosexual couples in an Obama administration. One woman in the room looks on in consternation and takes notes.

7:38 p.m. – Biden says she does he does not support gay marriage. Several women in the room take note as Palin reiterates that point.

7:40 p.m. – On to a discussion of Iraq. Palin says that Obama didn’t vote to fund the troops. One woman writes furiously.

7:42 p.m. – Biden says that Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be very destabilizing. Several women take note.

7:47 p.m. – Palin pinpoints Obama’s willingness to talk with “dictators who hate America.” The women, who seem a little sleepy at this point, sit up straight.

7:54 p.m. – Palin says that John McCain is known “as the maverick,” and repeats opponent Obama’s mantra that “change is coming.” Several women smile at the “maverick” mention.

7:56 p.m. – Palin says that the Iraq surge strategy will surely work in Afghanistan. Biden retorts that “truth matters,” and that the surge won’t fly in that country. The women look completely rapt.

8:02 p.m. – Biden says he has seen the suffering in Chad and in Darfur, speaking strongly about stopping the genocide. Palin says she’s obviously a “Washington outsider,” bringing the conversation back to Iraq by saying that she wonders why Biden voted with McCain on the war strategy and then changed his stance as soon as he joined the Obama camp. Several women in the room cock their heads and smile.

8:06 p.m. – Biden says should he be president if Obama dies, he’ll go after Osama bin Laden. One woman in the front nods her head.

8:10 p.m. – Palin uses the phrase “Wasilla Main Street” to refer to everyday American families. One woman sighs deeply.

8:11 p.m. – Palin says “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” regarding Biden’s reference of Obama’s policies. The women in the room crack up for the first time and continue to smile at Palin talks about education.

8:16 p.m. – The women in the room seem fascinated with Palin. But a CNN report shows that Biden is winning with undecided voters at this point in the debate.

8:17 p.m. – Now the candidates are answering questions about the role of the Vice President. “Vice President Cheney is the most dangerous Vice President in history,” says Biden. Several of the women chuckle and look at each other.

8:19 p.m. – The candidates talk about their credentials to lead. Biden mentions the Violence Against Women Act, which he authored. McCain voted against it, he says. One woman looks up. 

8:22 p.m. – Biden says that, like Palin, he knows what it means to suffer hardship. He knows what it means to lose family members, and to wonder whether his children would survive the fatal accident that killed his wife and one child. Biden tears up. Several women in the room start to cry as well.

8:28 p.m. – It’s closing statements. Palin says she likes to answer “tough questions” without the filter of the media. She says she wants to assure voters that she and McCain will be on the side of ordinary people. The women are completely rapt.

8:31 p.m. – Biden says that he and Obama want to make sure to strengthen middle America. One woman nods.

8:34 p.m. – Hold tight, dear readers. The women in the group are filling out a survey so that the Women’s Voices. Women Vote organization can assess whether they’ve changed their minds about either candidate post-debate. Most women came into the focus group undecided, but some may leave with strong opinions about Biden or Palin. The focus group moderators will choose the most opinionated women and split them into groups of single and married individuals to talk about what changed their minds.

8:40 p.m. – The women continue to fill out their surveys. Visit here for more about young women voter turnout.

8:43 p.m. – According to a study by Women’s Voices. Women Vote, married and unmarried female voters feel very differently about Obama and McCain. In a poll taken two weeks ago, unmarried women preferred Obama to McCain 59 percent to 32 percent. Married women, on the other hand, preferred McCain to Obama 48 percent to 46 percent.

8:49 p.m. – The single women focus group has started. Ten women gather in another, smaller room while a moderator asks questions. 

8:50 p.m. – One woman says that Palin has changed with this debate, that her hair was down and she has become a “Paris Hilton.” Another woman says that she thinks Palin was better, while Biden was throwing too many facts and percentages out there.

8:52 p.m. – Another woman says that Biden “gave us more of what we needed to hear,” even though she is still undecided. Sometimes, she says, it is hard to tell who is telling the truth in the debate. The women nod in agreement.

8:53 p.m. – The moderator asks if the issues addressed were important to their lives. One woman says that abortion wasn’t mentioned and she would have liked to hear about that because she disagrees with Palin’s anti-choice stance. Other women say they wished their was more discussion on health care and education.

8:55 p.m. – Another woman says that she is going broke paying for health care, and really wished health care was mentioned.

8:57 p.m. – The moderator asks if one candidate or the other seemed more genuine. Six of the people in the room say that Biden seemed more genuine, mainly because of his use of facts. And they thought Palin harped too much on being from Alaska. The other four say Palin is more genuine. One woman characterizes Palin as positive. Biden, on the other hand, is “slick.” “I think I just liked her better because she is a woman,” says another woman. 

8:59 p.m. – Who is more likeable, asks the moderator? Palin, says most people. But then others say that she seemed very fake and that she’d been “trained” extensively. 

9:00 p.m. – The moderator wonders which candidate can relate better to the women’s lives. The women nod somberly and say Palin. One says, “I guess it is because we are women.” 

9:02 p.m. – One woman says she relates to Palin because she is a hunter and has guns, but she disagrees with Palin on the abortion issue. 

9:04 p.m. – The women are asked whether Biden or Palin was more aggressive. The women agree that Palin was more aggressive. Biden, on the other hand, seemed warm, one woman says. 

9:06 p.m. – The moderator asks whether the candidates were disrespectful to one another. The women agree that the debate seemed very congenial. 

9:10 p.m. – The women agree that Palin is too inexperienced to lead. One says that she would have trusted Hillary Clinton, but not this woman. 

9:14 p.m. – The moderator asks what made people feel good about Palin. One woman says “the energy independence” while another says she liked the fact that Palin has her own opinions independently of McCain. A third says that Palin’s words are similar to those she says to her own children: “You learn from your mistakes, quit going backward. What do we need to aim for in the future?”

9:15 p.m. – Now the moderator wonders if the debate changed anyone’s mind about Palin. A few women say they feel more positive about her. “She is hard not to like, but it is just her experience,” says one. “You know how someone is singing a song and they have to hit a high note and you are afraid if they can hit it or not?,” asks another. “I was worried that he would pulverize her. But very quickly I realized I didn’t need to cringe. She can handle herself.” A third says her feelings were not changed because “we fought hard” for abortion, and Palin is still against it. 

9:19 p.m. – The moderator asks what the choice of Palin says about McCain. One woman says it means that “he’s a poker player” and that it’s a political move. Another woman says that it was a way to “level the playing field” since Obama is a black man, the McCain campaign needed someone different, too. 

9:23 p.m. – The moderator asks about how the women feel about Joe Biden after the debate. One woman repeats that she felt Biden to be “slick.” While another says that if she does vote for Obama it will be because of Biden. Polls show that most people (46 percent) feel that Biden won the debate. Only 21 percent went for Palin; 33 percent said it’s a tie.  

9:27 p.m. – Now the moderator asks what the Biden pick says about Obama. One woman says Obama scares her, but Biden makes her feel more comfortable with the ticket. Another woman says she is concerned that someone will kill Obama because he is black, and in that case Biden is prepared to lead. 

9:38 p.m. – The moderator asks about how the women feel about Palin on Iraq. One woman says, flatly, “She has no clue.” Another woman says she agrees with Biden, but doubts that the U.S. could leave in 16 months. “It’s funny but at least it’s a time frame,” a third says. 

9:41 p.m. – The conversation gets very animated, with all the women talking at once. The moderator asks the women to quiet down and probes further on Iraq. One woman, who seems to trust Palin on many issues, says that she liked that Palin reminded Biden how he thought Obama was unprepared to be president before Obama asked him to join the ticket. 

9:44 p.m. – The moderator asks in what area Biden seemed proficient. One woman says he did better on the war. Another woman, who says multiple times that she has a masters degree in education, says that she appreciated Biden’s tendency to quote numbers. 

9:48 p.m. – Now the conversation has turned to health care. The women seem to have a difficult time figuring out what each candidate means to do. “On health care, who is right?” asks one. “What’s going to happen?” 

9:50 p.m. – The moderator asks the women who changed their opinions from before the debate to speak up. “I think Sarah Palin is cute as a button. I think she is a good at sound bites. I think she has a lot of potential. I don’t think she is ready,” says one. Another, the one with the master’s degree in education, says she liked McCain at first, but saw something in Biden that was very appealing. Another woman says she is “terrified of Obama because he is a radical” but that McCain is “for the rich guy” and “I’m not rich.” Other women say they still feel very undecided, with one saying “now, it’s back to middle.” 

9:59 p.m. – A single woman in the room says that she is leaning toward a McCain-Palin ticket now, because she saw how Palin could stand up to Biden. She says she would rather have inexperience in the Vice Presidential candidate than the Presidential. 

10:01 p.m.  – The moderator asks what McCain would have to do in the next month to win the women’s votes. Here’s the list:
1. Get out of Iraq.
2. Skipped.
3. Get out of Iraq and come up with a better health care plan.
4. Come up with a new tax plan.
5. Ditto. 
6. Give more information on education.
7. Tell us something new we haven’t heard.
8. Tell us more about the Wall Street bailout.
9. Convince us that you’re not a ‘good old boy.’
10. Skipped.

And here’s what the women say Obama needs to do in the next month to win their votes.

1. Address the issues on Wall Street.
2. Gain a bunch of experience.
3. Talk to us more about education.
4. Talk to us more about health care and education.
5. Skipped.
6. Die of a heart attack and Hillary would have to step in.
7. Lay out how to put his programs into effect and not raise our taxes.
8. Talk to us about health care and funding.
9. Ditto.
10. Talk to us about immigration.

10:10 p.m. – After a rousing discussion, the forum ends and the women go home.

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Naomi Zeveloff

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