Pre-game: Gwen Ifill should never have been allowed to moderate this debate. I don't know whether her book is a pro-Obama book or not, but if it is true that its publication date is January 20, 2009 and it is about the rise of young, Black politicians - like Barack Obama - and she didn't tell the debate commission that she was involved in this project, then she should have recused herself, or should have been disqualified.
The other night I did a radio program in Washington and I said that Sarah Palin had to put her supporters at ease. She didn't have to know everything that Joe Biden knows, but needs to come off as a well-informed citizen, who is successfully climbing a very steep learning curve.
This debate had nothing to do with Biden. Everyone knows he's been a United States Senator for all the years that Obama says Washington has been wrong. It was all about Palin.
I got to my hotel here about 15 minutes after the debate started. There were five guys sitting in the lobby watching on a 60" TV. I asked them who was winning. One said, "It's a tie." I said, "If it's a tie, then Palin is winning."
In the first half hour, the problem that Sen. Joe Biden had was that he knows too many details about the stuff that Ifill was asking about. Talking about Chapter seven versus Chapter nine (or whatever) in the bankruptcy law even the Hampton Inn's television's eyes glazed over.
Gov. Sarah Palin kept coming back to her energy background where she is obviously very comfortable, but it seemed to me she was at ease and eager to participate in this thing.
When the conversation turned to foreign policy - Biden's specialty - Ifill first asked about Iraq (Biden's son is going to Iraq to fulfill a reserve requirement; Palin's son is already there). Palin was prepared and answered well. Biden is very comfortable with the material, but has to support Obama's changing positions.
Extending the foreign policy portion, Palin's answer on pre-conditions and her defense of Israel was as strong, passionate and coherent as I have heard anyone - anyone - make.
By Ten O'clock Palin was holding up very well. Here's how you learn to pronounce the word nuclear: You write on a big piece of poster board: NU-CLEAR and you practice it again and again. I know this, because that's how I learned how to pronounce it properly.
Biden was well-coached to stay away from correcting or even engaging with Palin. He compared the Obama/Biden positions with John McCain.
It seemed to me that Biden was getting tired after an hour. On his Afghanistan answer ("the surge will not work" followed by "we need more troops in Afghanistan") he began slipping back into the speech patterns which made him the darling of about one percent of the Democrat primary voters.
Palin corrected Biden on what the head of the NATO forces, General David McKiernan had actually said regarding a strategy in Afghanistan that the counter-insurgency strategy which is working in Iraq would work in Afghanistan.
Biden didn't appear to be certain whether she was correct or not, and stumbled on his response.
The Politico's Ben Smith, in his contemporaneous blog pointed out, "like Obama against McCain on foreign policy - her job isn't to outshine Biden; it's to pass a threshold."
As with the Presidential candidates, both V.P. candidates were well-schooled in not falling into the "what would you change" or "what promises won't you keep" questions. Pivot off the question you don't want to answer into the question you DO want to answer.
Biden's strongest moment was talking about his life immediately after the accident in which his wife was killed and his children were seriously injured. You can't fake that. It was very moving.
At the end of the debate, Gov. Palin met the test, passed the threshold. Not perfect, but perfection wasn't the mark she had to reach. Biden didn't say anything brainless, which was a huge disappointment to me, but he was expected to do well and he did.
As I said when I walked into the lobby: A tie goes to Gov. Palin, so Palin won.
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