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Like millions of my fellow Americans I watched the vice-presidential debate last night between Gov. Palin and Sen. Biden. According to the Nielsen Media Research ratings, 42 percent more people watched the vice-presidential debate than watched last Friday night’s John McCain vs. Barack Obama match-up (That debate’s relatively low rating may have been due to its having been scheduled on a Friday night in October. Hasn’t anyone at the presidential debate commission heard of high school football and “Friday night lights?”).
They were treated to a riveting 90 minutes of thrust and parry political theater in which both candidates succeeded in their essential tasks. Gov. Palin did well enough that 84 percent of viewers thought she did better than they expected her to do.
Before the debate Palin supporters were saying “Let Sarah be Sarah,” and evidently they won their argument with Team McCain. From the outset the younger, less experienced Governor dominated the scene over the older, more experienced, but less charismatic Sen. Biden.
To be fair to Sen. Biden, Gov. Palin was the issue in this debate. Which Sarah would show up–the red-hot Gov. Palin of her convention acceptance speech or the reticent, somewhat dazed Sarah of the Katie Couric interview? The red-hot version showed up and looked straight into the camera, virtually ignoring her opponent and the moderator and speaking directly to the American people. It was almost Reaganesque.
Senator Biden’s debate performance was successful as well. CNN viewers thought Biden “did the best job” by a 51 percent to 36 percent margin. More importantly, Sen. Biden managed to control his rather infamous tendency of giving off the aura that he is very, very pleased to be the very, very intelligent and well-informed Senator that he perceives himself to be. He managed not to be condescending to the Governor and he kept his congenital verbosity in check.
In other words, both candidates succeeded in their very different missions last night.