Sarah Palin survived tonight. She did not freeze or make any significant gaffe and anybody tuning in to see the final nail go into the coffin left disappointed. But avoiding another deer in the headlights, future SNL moment is a rather ridiculous measuring stick. Putting expectations aside, to suggest that Palin somehow won this debate by not falling flat on her face is simply laughable.
She appeared nervous, especially early on, and frequently rambled to the point that most answers lacked a coherent train of thought. The over-coaching led to stock answers and produced a candidate who completely avoided several questions and seemed fearful to veer off of her talking points. At one point, it seemed like every other word to escape her mouth was "maverick." Palin wasn't particularly effective in defending or espousing McCain's record and seemed largely out of her league during some of the foreign policy segments.
It wasn't all lemons tonight for the Republicans though and if we're judging simply on pass-fail, she certainly passed. Beyond the nervousness and the uneven delivery, Palin did display a certain charm and freshness that voters should find appealing. Unlike her running mate last week in Mississippi, she looked directly and almost exclusively into the camera and projected a positive mood. She spoke effectively to "Joe Six-Pack" early on, connecting her story to that of the average American. She did better to pivot her answers to more favorable ground, but this remains the part of her game that needs the most work. She kept the Obama attacks coming--some were more effective than others--and tried to portray a divide between the two Democrats.
Joe Biden seemed somewhat unsteady in the early stages--unsure of how forceful he should be, not looking enough into the camera, and appearing somewhat listless. He remained rather sober throughout and eventually hit his stride with relentless attacks on John McCain. As Obama did in his debate, Biden let no attack go unchallenged, arguing in lawyerly fashion. He showed a depth and range of knowledge that Palin wasn't able to match without appearing too senatorial or arrogant. Like Palin, he focused on the middle class during the economic segments and at times displayed a passion and connectedness that equaled his opponent.
Overall, neither candidate was exceptional. Palin was shaky, but passable. Biden was knowledgeable, but forgettable. I don't think any votes were won or lost and this meeting should ultimately prove meaningless (just like every other VP debate). The race has clearly become Obama's to lose, but 30 days, two debates, and the great unknown still stand in his way.
Cross posted at Political Realm.