In scoring these debates I try to remember not just what the expectations were beforehand, but what the goals were. When Barack Obama picked Joe Biden, what did he want? A safe-sounding (white) old hand who'd convince people that Obama understood them. When John McCain picked Sarah Palin, what did he want? An instant star who'd blow up the electorate, peel off Hillary voters, and purloin the "change" message from Obama.
On those terms there's no question that the Democrats won tonight. Biden spent the night attacking John McCain's record and building up (with detachable honesty) Obama's. Palin spent the night re-selling Sarah Palin. For her it was the day after the Republican convention ended, before the Couric interview, before the Saturday Night Live parodies, when she was still a hockey stick-swingin' shitkicker who got things done. When she wasn't attacking Obama she was re-packaging herself. I don't know how that moved the McCain ball forward.
Both of them had their "on" moments. Here's one of Biden's.
Here's one of hers.
I didn't expect Sarah Palin to melt down, no more than conservatives should have expected Obama to implode without the aide of a teleprompter. You don't get elected governor if every public performance is a Katie Couric interview. But for her to recover the spotlight and the momentum of early September she needed to prove that she knew more than talking points and Wasilla. She didn't. For Biden to implode he needed to lose his cool, invade her space, or talk past the audience. He didn't. Notably, Biden talked about people he knew in Delaware. Palin talked about herself.
As entertaining as the Palin sideshow is, ask yourself: Are people voting on the drama of Feisty Sarah and her battle with the Evil Media? Or are they voting on something else? I'll have to play like a vice presidential candidate for a moment: I'm from Delaware. Many of my best friends still live there. My parents and their friends live there. And I hear them talk about whether they can afford having a kid right now, and joking about the stock market, and fretting over their home values. I don't think they care quite as much about whether the media's mean to Sarah Palin as the average blogger does.
UPDATE: I thought "Bosniak" was a Biden gaffe. I'm dumb: He's right.