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Unusually high stakes in vice presidential debate

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Biden’s challenge:

The biggest challenge of all for the 35-year Senate veteran – going up against a first-term woman governor who has struggled when she’s unscripted – may be to avoid looking condescending or patronizing.

Biden has reportedly consulted with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, against whom he debated 12 times during the Democratic primaries, and with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California about how to debate a woman.

Their replies were not reported, but one need look no further for clues than to former New York Rep. Rick Lazio’s debate against Senator Clinton during their race for the Senate in 2000. Mr. Lazio walked up to Clinton and demanded she sign a pledge to ban large donations from the race. Lazio’s aggressive posture may have contributed to his defeat.

“Biden has to be strong and take on Palin, but not in a condescending way or a put-down way,” says Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. “McCain was quite condescending [in last Friday’s debate], and it hurt him tremendously.”

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