Sarah Palin did fine and may have even "won" by exceeding expectations. She was likeable, she was lookable, but I don't think she was wildly persuasive on substance. It was clear that they bought into the "Let Palin be Palin" argument, because she played to her strenghts: folksiness,"adorability" as the Luntz panel guy put it, Joe Six Pack and the Hockey Moms. She displayed knowledge in areas where she was not expected to and whenever she was asked a question where Biden was clearly better informed she capably steered the conversation back to things she did know -- Alaska, personal anecdotes, energy policy, arguments about Democratic tax increases.
Joe Biden avoided putting his foot in his mouth, was well informed and crisp if occasionally to Washington-wonkish, and struck the right balance in terms of challenging Palin without bullying or patronizing her. He was a little flat in the beginning but picked up steam as he went along. But the expectations game did not favor him.
I think Joe Biden just gave the greatest presidential campaign debate performance I have ever seen. He was absolutely commanding and absolutely convincing. But (and you'll have to read all the way down before I explain this) he gift-wrapped two big opportunities for the McCain campaign if the campaign is smart enough and tough enough to exploit them.
I thought Sarah Palin did about as well as she could. She wasn't bad. She wasn't great, by any means. But she was out of her league. Unfortunately, my opinion of her performance was HIGHER than that of my "test group." I watched with two women, both rather apolitical but both conservative, both of whom wanted her to do well, both in the mid-thirties to mid-forties age range. They thought she was absolutely godawful.
Young woman #1: "She's just not polished enough."
"ANSWER the question!"
and, at the end: "He smoked her. He smoked her. He smoked her."
Young woman #2: "She's just a calamity." and again at the end: "She was calamitous."
Sarah Palin did as well if not better than anybody could have expected. This will help repair some of the damage that was done to her reputation over the past few weeks. She was likeable, spoke to the concerns of average Americans, defended McCain and went on the offense against Obama. She wasn't afraid to mix it up with Biden either, and she added good humor. Most of all, she seemed comfortable up there and avoided any major incident.
And I would add that Joe Biden also did what he needed to. He communicated his experience and knowledge, was an able attack dog, and most of all, remained respectful and averted a big gaffe.
I don't think this changes the big picture of the race much, but it will ease doubts about Palin.
It sounded to me like Sarah Palin got the mame of the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan wrong. I heard McClellan, but it's McKiernan. Biden didn't call her on it though. I imagine the liberal blogs will make hay out of this, but think it's pretty thing gruel.
Not a band, but Sarah Palin's first references to these Middle Americans tonight. Palin repeats McCain's Wall Street stuff but says "never again" and touts personal responsibility. Might not be as effective as Joe Biden's policy specifics and strawmen about deregulation.
My sense is that Sarah Palin has more to lose than she has to gain. If she exceeds expectations, it may help relieve doubts about her readiness, but
I would be surprised if McCain gets much of a bounce out of it, because the focus will soon shift back to the bailout plan. However, if she messes up, it will keep the focus on whether or not she's up to the job, and that's a loser for McCain. Fair or not, that's the field of play.
Joe Biden would be best off ignoring Palin as much as possible. He should just answer the questions and keep attacking McCain and try not to engage Palin and risk a backlash. But will he be able to keep himself from saying something really stupid? We shall see.
Palin needs to play to her strengths and recapture that likable authenticity that she had coming out of the convention, while at the same time, come across as confident in her answers. She can't afford another one of the Couric moments on such a large stage.
But at the end of the night, relax. Historically, the VP debate has very little influence on the outcome of the election, if any. Remember this?