Sarah Palin couldn't have singlehandedly won the election for John McCain.
But the embattled Alaska governor might have lost it for him with a poor showing in the vice presidential debate Thursday night.
Instead, Palin more than held her own against a three-decade member of the U.S. Senate, Joe Biden -- astounding (disappointing?) some in the national media that she didn't follow the narrative they'd drawn for her as a car wreck waiting to happen.
Her strong performance will re-energize McCain supporters for the final month of campaigning. And while the vice-presidential debate may not be a game-changer, it will likely stall Democrat Barack Obama's recent momentum. And that's all McCain could've asked.
To be sure, Biden won the debate narrowly on points. He was sure-footed and forceful in his defense of Barack Obama and his attacks on John McCain. Palin was a bit more stilted, staying on prearranged talking points at times she should've issued a passionate rebuke or defense of McCain.
Example: Biden took issue with McCain's "maverick" image, saying flat-out he isn't one. The objective truth is that McCain is his own man, having teamed up with some of the most liberal members of Congress on campaign finance, immigration and other issues, to the consternation of many in his own party. Why Palin didn't point that out is beyond us.
And when Biden tried to sell the canard that he didn't vote for the Iraq war, Palin should've mopped the floor with him.
We wonder how many misstatements Biden made about McCain's record and Obama's votes and pronouncements. Sorry, Joe, but Mr. Obama did say he'd meet with the world's wackiest dictators without preconditions. And, as much as Biden wanted to spin it, he and Obama were flat-out wrong about the surge in Iraq -- and if they'd prevailed in Congress, the United States would've lost this war.
And when Biden tried to equate McCain's and Obama's votes on funding the troops -- well, there just is no comparison. McCain objected to a precipitous pullout, while Obama wanted to starve the war effort of funds while our troops were in harm's way. Palin inexplicably let it pass.
Someone also needed to tell Palin that one of a debater's most devastating devices is pointed humor. For instance, she could have etched out a "there you go again" moment if, faced with Biden's factual errors, she would have congratulated him for reducing unemployment by putting so many fact-checkers to work the next morning.
Regardless, if Biden won the points, it's likely Palin won the people. She managed to point out Biden's slippery Potomac-speak, while she sounded like one of us.
You know, every four years, someone runs for the White House as a Washington "outsider." They hardly ever are. Sarah Palin is.
As we noted after Obama's strong showing against McCain a week before, sometimes you can win a debate by not losing it. While Palin couldn't win the election for McCain, she might have saved his opportunity to win it himself by not losing it herself.