Going in to this debate, the focus was entirely and completely on Sarah Palin. Thanks largely to a series of less than stellar interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, the initial excitement about Palin had diminished to the point where polls were clearly indicating that she was a serious drag on McCain’s electoral chances.

Therefore, her mission tonight was fairly straightforward — she needed to at least do well enough to put aside the doubts about her own qualifications and stop the negative impact she was having on McCain’s Presidential chances. Given how bad some of those interviews had gone, and how ingrained the public impression of her was becoming thanks in part to Tina Fey’s impersonation, that wasn’t an easy task.

For Joe Biden, the job was a bit simpler. He needed to make sure that he didn’t do anything to hurt the ticket and that he didn’t make the same mistakes that George H.W. Bush did in 1984 and thereby engender sympathy for his opponent.

I’m writing this blog post free of any spin, pundit analysis, or the opinion of any other blogger. If it turns out that I’ve totally misread things tonight, well, then, that’s that, but here’s how I saw it.

Going into this debate, I was frankly expecting that Sarah Palin would do pretty well. For one thing, and thanks to a series of disastrous interviews, my expectations were fairly low and, as I noted this morning, there was some indication from her campaign for Governor that Palin was at the very least a mildly competent debater. Additionally, it was fairly clear that the McCain campaign had realized that the Palin/Couric interviews had not gone well at all and it seemed like they were taking steps to make sure that the VP candidate would be ready to make a good impression tonight.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Sarah Palin that showed up tonight was the same Sarah Palin that was unable to give Charlie Gibson any real coherent response to substantive foreign policy questions, the same Sarah Palin that babbled a response to foreign policy questions from Katie Couric, and the same Sarah Palin who didn’t seem to be able to remember a single Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade.

The answers that Palin gave were in the same rambling, semi-coherent style as the answers she gave to questions from Gibson and Couric and, for the most part, all she really seemed to do was repeat the same platitudes over and over again. John McCain is a “maverick.” She comes from a state that produces a lot of energy. She’s an outsider. McCain is a “reformer.”

You know the drill.

More than once, I found myself hitting the reversing button on TiVo and listening to one of Palin’s response again because, quite honestly, I couldn’t understand what the heck she was saying. “Please Sarah just one coherent sentence. Just one” as I asked in one Twitter message during the debate. But, alas, they seemed to be few and far between.

Now don’t get me wrong. On substance, I disagreed with pretty much everything Joe Biden had to say — except when it came to pointing out the missteps, mistakes, and outright fabrications that the Bush Administration engaged in when it comes to the Iraq War — but at least I understood what the heck it was that he was saying.

With Palin, it seemed like I was struggling to understand her everytime she spoke. To me, she just didn’t come across as Presidential, or even as someone who I would be content with assuming the Presidency should that need ever arise.

There were times when it seemed apparent that Palin was completely out of her league and that became readily apparent when the subject changed to foreign policy. Whether you agree with him or not, it’s fairly obvious that Joe Biden knows what he’s talking about when it comes to foreign policy. Sarah Palin sounded, yet again, like she was reciting lines out of briefing book or a debate rehearsal.

Others may disagree, but my feeling is that Sarah Palin completely failed in her mission tonight. I don’t believe that she did anything to erase the doubts that clearly exist in the public’s mind regarding her own qualifications or her readiness to assume the Presidency in the event of John McCain’s death, and, beyond repeating campaign slogans we hear every day from Sean Hannity and his ilk, I don’t believe she did all that much to advance the McCain for President campaign.

Of course, my opinion doesn’t matter any more than that of any other pundits, so it will be interesting to see what impact tonight’s event has on the race.

Cross-posted at Below The Beltway

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