I give the debate to Sarah Palin. Not because she was better than Joe Biden - of course she wasn't - but because she looked like the woman people liked when they first saw her at the convention back in August.
The flailing Sarah Palin of the Katie Couric interview was gone. The lurching, panic-stricken rabbit in the headlights was back in the hutch.
Those interviews had set the bar so low for the Governor of Alaska that her ability to string a sentence together, and to make it through the debate without a complete semantic melt down seemed like a victory.
The differences between the two candidates were clear: Joe Biden is experienced, knowledgeable, and impressive. He is the kind of person you would want as Vice President. When asked what he saw as the role of VP, he replied: "I would be the point person for the legislative initiatives in the United States Congress for our administration." Watching Senator Biden last night, Americans saw a man who would be brilliant at that job. He was persuasive, powerful, and pragmatic.
Meanwhile, it seemed genuinely unimaginable that John McCain would ever want Sarah Palin to be the "point person" for his legislative initiatives. Even her most ardent admirers did not watch that debate last night and imagine that Vice President Palin would be sent out to negotiate a complex Social Security bill with Senate leaders by a Republican White House.
For that reason, Governor Palin repeatedly attempted to re-frame the terms of this debate, and to redefine the Vice Presidency. In her version of events, she has been picked to be John McCain's running mate not to fulfill the role of legislative go-between, or chief advisor, but to bring "a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street" to Washington.
I watched that debate and thought the McCain campaign would probably offer her four years of maternity leave if they got into power. Her usefulness, as she admitted last night, was her ability to connect with "average" Americans, and to convince the electorate that she is taking their problems, and their frustrations to Washington. That ability is an electoral asset, but it is not a strategy for government.
If Americans sat on their sofas at 9pm last night thinking of that debate as an interview for the job Joe Biden described, then there was only one conceivable winner.
If, however, they sat down to watch a political demolition derby, then Sarah Palin came out on top.