I think my initial reaction will echo the conventional wisdom (as supported by the pundity) that Sarah Palin exceeded the expectations set for her. That is, she attended the debate, inhaled oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide, and spewed back Republican talking points without being forced to elucidate. She employed a media training tactic called “bridging” to great effect; she “bridged” a gives question to issues or talking points with which she felt more comfortable. This was going to be enough for Palin to “succeed.”
On the other hand, Joe Biden seemed largely defensive (though mostly correct) and totally inable to land a “knock out punch.” There was no way for Biden to differentiate himself positively. Either he exhaled loudly through the microphone, or explained competently issues of foreign policy, probably leaving most Americans as lost as Alice. Furthering this problem, Gwen Ifill utterly refused to push for legitimate or specific answers, and in this sense completely failed to offer opportunities for legitimate differentiation.
But here’s the bottom line: Sarah Palin was not able to gain ground. She defended her own credibility in the most shallow and insubstantial way, and in this sense managed to not lose ground. She was not able to legitimately claim difference between Bush and McCain and was not able to substantively show why McCain’s plans would better serve America. But so long as Bush’s policies continue to drag us to the depths, this marked similarity between McCain-Palin and Biden-Obama will continue to serve the Democratic ticket well. A draw will not benefit a losing ticket.