Biden wins. Obama wins. McCain loses.
Sarah Palin stuck to her rehearsed lines, whether or not they applied to the questions. She took advantage of the soft format, which was specifically designed to protect her, and it enabled her to avoid embarrassing herself. Joe Biden, on the other hand, spoke substantively, and in depth, on every question. Judging from the snap polls, the American people were not fooled. This wasn't judged on a curve, and only a small minority of viewers thought Palin won the debate. The CNN poll also showed that a majority still considers her unqualified to be vice president. That's what matters.
There were two key moments for me when Sarah Palin blew it badly. One was substantive, one was symbolic. The substantive was her bizarre statement about being happy that Dick Cheney had expanded the powers of the vice-presidency, and wanting to expand the powers more. I think that's what she said, it was one of many moments I didn't entirely understand her point, but I got her overall meaning. Biden came back with a decisive: "Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president in American history," and he defended the existing limits on vice-presidential power. Point: Biden. Big time.
The symbolic moment Palin flubbed was subjective, of course. But I instant-messaged a friend that she lost the debate when Biden choked up over losing his wife and child in a car accident in which his sons were critically injured -- and she went straight back into "John McCain is a maverick." I truly expected her to express human sympathy with Biden, and her failure to do so showed me something deeply wrong with her. But maybe that's just me.
Biden also scored big by repeatedly tying McCain to Bush, and by witheringly debunking Palin's rote drinking game line about McCain being a "maverick." McCain needed a game changer. Biden won the debate. McCain's window of opportunity continues to close.
Update 10:15 PDT (from Soto): The CBS News poll right after the debate among independents shows Biden winning 46%-21%. In my mind, Palin was a selfish candidate tonight, aiming primarily to help herself and to stop the bleeding she herself has caused. She gave voters no reason whatsoever to vote for McCain. In short, a pure vanity effort built on sticking with the index cards and talking points, avoiding answers to the questions asked, and talking like any other pretty Fox News airhead. For his part, Biden was boring early and got better late, as he tried to avoid a mistake and tolerated her usual sh*t. McCain will have to dig himself out the hole next week on the economy, and he can't. Plain and simple.