Sarah Palin succeeded tonight in stemming the haemorrhage she's caused her ticket. She was likeable. Very likeable, according to most conservatives who are heaving a collective sigh of relief. Tentative at first, one could almost hear her thoughts cranking up in each answering sequence when the prepared lines came back to her. At the crest of her thoughts, she was on message. (Though her debate coach apparently didn't care to correct her pronunciation of nu-cu-ler - but then neither did Bush's.) Dick Morris, Karl Rove, and Sean Hannity think Palin delivered a "shock and awe." Liberals will disagree, but they should remember that the meaning of eloquence is defined in partisan terms. (Explain the difference and you should win the nobel prize in American politics.)
Palin's relative success was to be expected to the extent that she didn't have to deal with follow up questions that would force her to deal with specifics, and she was free not to answer the questions Gwen Ifill posed; indeed she was free to stray. It is enough these days to deliver the punchlines, nevermind how you argued yourself there. That said, while Sarah Palin's winks may have trumped Biden's words for her supporters, there are significantly more Americans today who are looking for executive competence than (as was the case in 2000 and 2004) executive congeniality.
Biden was in attack mode tonight. He was probably told that he best direct his fire to McCain, not to the lady standing beside him. So in his restraint, Palin was afforded the space to deliver her homey punchlines. She tried the "there you go ahead line" (dwelling on the past) when Biden attacked Bush, but that didn't go very far because as Biden cleverly put it in reply, the past eight years is prologue.
Was this a game changer? Depends on who you ask, and where they set the goalposts. About 85 % of FOX viewers thought Palin won and about 65% of CNN viewers thought Biden won - surprise, surprise. Republicans sincerely believe it was a game changer, because the bleeding has stopped. Democrats don't think that Palin did anything to hurt Obama, so this debate won't bring a point of inflection. Both sides are right. (But I'll look at whether the now Obama-leaning states that Palin had once yanked away from the Democrats such as MI return to toss-up status in the next few days to see who was more right.) What we can safely say is that with the potential toxin on the McCain ticket now neutralized - because the calls for Palin to bow out from Republican ranks will now cease - the VPs will now recede to the background as they have for almost every other election cycle, as Obama and McCain will return to the foreground. Next stop, Nashville, TN. But let it be said that the concrete is quickly setting on the extant poll numbers.