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Palin Delivers, But Doubts Linger

She also sought to gain sympathy from the national television audience as someone who has been under fire from elites and her Democratic opponents. "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record," she said.

Biden also came with a plan, which was to pin McCain to President Bush and argue that if voters really want change, it will come only through the election of the Democratic ticket. He made that point about McCain on the economy and taxes but he was most forceful when the discussion turned to foreign policy.

Each time Biden sought to link McCain to Bush, Palin countered by accusing him of looking backward. "For a ticket that wants to talk about change and looking into the future, there's just too much finger-pointing backwards to ever make us believe that that's where you're going," she said. "Positive change is coming, though. Reform of government is coming. We'll learn from the past mistakes in this administration and other administrations."

Biden pushed back hard in response, arguing that past is prologue. "The issue is: How different is John McCain's policy going to be than George Bush's? I haven't heard anything yet," he said. "I haven't heard how his policy is going to be different on Iran than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy is going to be different with Israel than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Afghanistan is going to be different than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Pakistan is going to be different than George Bush's."

Reactions to the debate among political strategists fell almost predictably along partisan lines. But even some Democrats said Palin handled herself well. "The VP is no longer an issue," said Democrat Tad Devine. "Joe did well, too, especially at the end. I think there will no longer be a sideshow for the VP."

Other Democrats said that as well as she may have done, she probably did not sway undecided voters. "For people who were already inclined to vote for John McCain, there was nothing about Sarah Palin's performance to keep them from doing that," Democrat Geoff Garin said. "But McCain's problem is that there aren't enough people who are inclined to vote for him, and nothing about Palin's performance changed that, either."

But Republicans had a positive reaction, as if a weight had been lifted off McCain's shoulders. "She delivered big-time," said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist. "It was the best 90 minutes this campaign has had in two weeks. . . . Whatever expectations there were, she blew them away."

The vice presidential debate came with high interest and big expectations and certainly delivered, though not as some had predicted. That leaves it to Obama and McCain to argue it out for the next 32 days.

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