The Vice-Presidential debate in Missouri was never going to win the race, but it made the competition more interesting, writes David Neary.

All eyes last Thursday night were on a pair of stylish glasses perched upon the nose of the newest and fastest rising force in the US and international scene.

Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, practically a political non-entity barely a month ago, could only be compared to a certain senator from Illinois in terms of the speed at which she has leapt to the forefront of the US political stage.

On Thursday, Repulicans were eager to set loose their dog of war, who had all too recently been reduced to a confused puppy by CBS journalist Katie Couric. Americans were eager to judge the real Palin as either a gutsy maverick or terrifying self-parody.

Americans were eager to judge the real Palin as either a gutsy maverick or terrifying self-parody

Democrats were eager to not let her regain the upper hand she had so recently lost.

Few eyes were on Joe Biden, the senator from Delaware whom Barack Obama selected as his running mate to quash attacks from John McCain that an Obama administration would be an inexperienced one. McCain had responded by selecting the relatively inexperienced Palin to join him on his ticket, and within barely a week Biden’s name had fallen from the forefront of conversation.

Democratic fears going into Thursday night’s debate were undoubtedly focused on Biden appearing too senior, too out of touch, or making an expected slip of the tongue that might reduce his credibility.
Worse still, his commanding stature as a political debater might have been used to hammer Palin’s positions, making her look more of a woman of the people, an underdog. As Barack Obama’s success has shown, America loves the underdog.

“Can I call you Joe?” was the first audible line of the night’s proceedings, as the two VP candidates shook hands on stage, both gleaming their charming white-toothed American girns to one another and some 70 million viewers at home. From the get go what was obvious was that neither performer was going to allow the weaknesses undermine them.

Palin had been sequestered for days of preperation, and the change was evident. The former broadcaster was fluent and to the point on almost every topic that was raised, albeit fumbling on details occassionally. But her critics were left with little to attack. What has been called her “folksy charm” is undoubtedly endearing to voters. References were made to hockey moms and soccer games.

“Now doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in future,” she said, not in the manner of the highly literate but in an earnest tone. Sarah Palin resurrected her image, and it was all that the Republican party could hope for. If she failed at all it was that she could not land a successful blow on the career of Barack Obama.

The reason for that was Biden’s verbal jousting, and while he may not play much of a role in the rest of the Obama campaign, for one night he deflected almost all of the flak thrown at him and his candidate and deflected it towards John McCain.

“[McCain] has been no maverick on the things that matter to people’s lives,” he said, attacking McCain’s strongest political trait. Biden tactfully avoided hitting out at Palin and stuck solely to a barrage of criticism against John McCain’s history of voting in the Senate. In an unexpectedly human moment, Biden, discussing the loss of his wife and daughter 30 years ago, choked up in mid-sentence, a moment that even the greatest of his critics would have difficulty accusing him of having faked.

Despite exchanges back and forth no hammerfalls struck winning blows. While Biden, the experienced man of the Senate, certainly out-debated his rival, the winner of the debate was surely Sarah Palin’s PR machine. Ironically, if anyone lost the debate, it was John McCain.

Biden’s time in the political sun may end come November, but we will not have seen the last of Sarah Palin no matter what happens. If John McCain does win in November, his age would make it unlikely he would ever run for a second term. Win or lose in November, Thursday night’s debate will likely have been the first rally for the Palin for President ticket for 2012.