Do we have a winner? "The stakes were much higher and the bar was much lower for Sarah Palin," the AP's Liz Sidoti writes. "So, in the contest of low expectations, Palin won."
"The pit bull is back, and she can still bite," write Michael Saul and David Saltonstall of the New York Daily News. "Palin spoke in mostly [!] complete sentences, unlike her performance in a string of recent TV appearances."
"The Politics of Spunk," reads the Los Angeles Times headline. Per Peter Wallsten: "She winked. She wrinkled her nose. She gave a 'shout-out' to a third-grade class."
David Brooks believes again: "She held up her end of an energetic debate that gave voters a direct look at two competing philosophies. She established debating parity with Joe Biden. And in a country that is furious with Washington, she presented herself as a radical alternative," he writes in his New York Times column. "By the end of the debate, most Republicans were not crouching behind the couch, but standing on it."
But did she need more than a win on points? "Recent days have given John McCain's team little reason to suppose that not-that-bad is good enough," John F. Harris and Mike Allen write for Politico. "The Republican ticket's sliding polls and narrowing electoral map gave it a different imperative in her showdown against Joe Biden. That was to alter the trajectory of the race in a way reminiscent of how Palin first enlivened Republicans --it seems long ago now -- when she joined the ticket in late August. Absent new polling, there is little reason to think she cleared that bar in St. Louis."
"She didn't score the kind of dramatic breakthrough that she did when she burst onto the national stage with a strong, in-your-face speech at the Republican National Convention," McClatchy's Steven Thomma writes.
"Both candidates exuded confidence and determination -- a victory of sorts for Palin, the first-term Alaska governor performing on equal terms with the six-term Delaware senator," USA Today's Susan Page writes. "Neither made a major obvious gaffe, and both spoke so quickly and relentlessly that the encounter surely scored a record word count in the annals of national debates."
She was going to be cut some extra slack -- and she tried to slice herself some more: "Right from the start of the debate -- 'Can I call you Joe,' she asked Biden -- her appeal to the 'average Joe' was on full display," per Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza. "She regularly used phrases like 'you betcha' and 'darn right' in an attempt to accentuate the differences between herself and the smooth-talking, senatorial Biden."
"Right now Americans hate just about everyone in Washington. So a 'g' here or there is a small price to pay for re-establishing the ticket's theme," Commentary's Jennifer Rubin writes.
"Sarah Six-Pack all but popped open a cold one. Wearing a glittery flag pin on her jacket, she blew a kiss toward the audience. She gave a wave that Tina Fey would probably describe as adorable," The Washington Post's Dana Milbank writes. "She had talking points adequate to fill the 90 seconds on the various topics Ifill tossed her way, and often forced Biden to defend Barack Obama."
Feel the pop: "Gov. Sarah Palin used a steady grin, folksy manner and carefully scripted talking points to punch politely and persist politically," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times.