Debates are hard to score objectively. Last night's debate between Palin and Biden is no exception. Whoever you supported before the debate you probably think did very well. Flipping between Fox news (Palin) and CNN (Biden) was stark evidence of how little debates do to change already forged opinions. Pundits from both networks proclaimed decisive victories for their candidates.
How can one judge who won or lost? Both candidates accomplished their objectives quite effectively. Biden didn't make any major gaffes and Palin prepared well and overcame perceptions about her lack of knowledge and experience. Biden beat the drum of McCain being synonymous with Bush. Palin beat the drum of Obama/Biden being typical tax and spend liberals weak on national defense. Biden was polite, yet forceful in his pointed attack on McCain/Bush/Cheney (all the same to him, which is an effective strategy). Palin was charming, pleasantly plain-spoken, yet bold in her recalling Biden's quotes against Obama and Obama's alleged lack of support for the troops. Biden and his 35 years of debate experience was better on his feet. Palin was impressive, but did have to go to her written talking points on a few occasions looking a bit artificial. Biden, however, made several factual errors while Palin made just a few. I'm guessing the various fact checking media outlets will be busily at work today. (update: Fact Check)
Clearly Palin had a more difficult task due chiefly to the plentiful fodder George Bush has provided the Obama/Biden ticket and McCain's seeming connection with the same. Considering this handicap, she did very well.
Unfortunately for the McCain/Palin ticket, there is a unified perception that we are plunging headlong in to a economic recession. Such financial doldrums are never good for the incumbent party and regardless of McCain/Palin's constant self-identification as "mavericks", most people who are still swing voters see McCain as basically aligned with Bush. Keeping McCain linked with Bush was Biden's mission last night, he did it quite well.
In an earlier post I argued that Americans tend to vote based on their wallets. Before the recent financial institution failings and proposed bailout plan it seemed McCain/Palin had the edge due to their clearer plan for a short term energy solution. Now, despite the lack of a clear plan from Obama/Biden, George Bush looks culpable for the alleged recession making it is impossible for McCain/Palin to completely distance themselves from him. Americans do tend to vote based on their wallets, and right now, that's not good for McCain/Palin no matter how charming Sarah was in the debate.