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.
A lot will depend on how you were disposed to view the candidates going in — if you like Palin, you’ll find her personal touch charming; if you don’t like her, you’ll find it grating — but given the Couric and Gibson interviews I’d have to think Team McCain is happy with Palin. She was effective on the attack, comfortable with the format, and willing to turn tough questions to her advantage. I liked Palin the Buchananite a lot better than Palin John McCain’s Mini-Me and thought this was more of a pillow fight than a debate, but tonight helped the Alaska governor and should quiet some of the calls for her to leave the ticket. There were no “You’re no Jack Kennedy” deer-in-the-headlights moments tonight. A better comparison would be when Dan Quayle held his own against Al Gore in 1992.
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