ST. LOUIS -- Where's she been? (And where can she still take him?)
Take that, Tina Fey: You betcha Gov. Sarah Palin is back -- darn right (wink) -- and it might matter yet. She may not have been a clear winner Thursday night, but the McCain ticket has got a different story to shout out on Friday -- even if all Palin did was square-dance over the bar she had lowered herself.
She did more than that, actually, and that gives Sen. John McCain the narrowest of openings. In a political world that's falling apart for the GOP almost by the hour, Palin (plus a House vote Friday that puts the bailout package out of its miserable turn in the news cycle) can buy a little time.
Maybe she doesn't want to talk more about global warming, or about what vice presidents do, or about who's commanding US troops in Afghanistan. Perhaps she isn't entirely clear on where her running mate is on everything (it's only been, like, five weeks). Maybe (definitely) she really, really wants us to think she and McCain are "mavericks."
But Palin returned to the source of her popularity Thursday night at Washington University in St. Louis -- the folksy, aw-shucks, look-who's-running-for-vice-president appeal that reminds us that shortly before she was a drag on the ticket she was a phenom in her own right.
Sen. Joe Biden may have turned in the better debate performance. But it was Palin's night regardless, and she's still a force and a factor now. If this is still a race, John McCain will have some company for it yet.
"By surviving her encounter with Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. and quelling some of the talk about her basic qualifications for high office, she may even have done Senator John McCain a bit of good, freeing him to focus on the other troubles shadowing his campaign," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.
Nagourney continues: "It was not a tipping point for the embattled Republican presidential ticket, the bad night that many Republicans had feared. But neither did it constitute the turning point the McCain campaign was looking for after a stretch of several weeks in which Senator Barack Obama seemed to be gaining the upper hand in the race."
Does this mean we get to talk about the presidential candidates again? "One debate will not erase doubts that have been building about Palin's capacity to serve as vice president, but the effect of the encounter may shift the focus away from the sideshow that Palin has become and put it back on the two presidential nominees and what they would do for the country," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post. "Republicans had a positive reaction, as if a weight had been lifted off McCain's shoulders."
Palin was "poised and confident, speaking colloquially in a way that could appeal to independents," Bill Lambrecht writes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "She was fluent, if not brilliant, on foreign policy. And even if she didn't actually answer some of moderator Gwen Ifill's questions, many voters may not have noticed and others probably won't hold it against her."
On style, ABC's George Stephanopoulos gives Palin an A and Biden an A-; both get Bs on accuracy.
"She beat expectations and she stopped the slide," Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" Friday. "I think the race probably solidified where it was. If you came in liking Biden, you voted for him [in post-debate polls] and if you liked McCain-Palin you probably voted for them. But that's the problem for the McCain campaign."
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.
CNN's polling scored it 51-36 for Biden; CBS' undecided voters said 46-21 in the same direction. Frank Luntz's focus group called it for Palin.
Expectations can be glorious things: "Sarah Palin was supposed to fall off the stage at her vice presidential debate Thursday evening. Instead, she ended up dominating it," Politico's Roger Simon writes.
An important turn: Palin "used humor in seeking to deflect Biden's criticisms as backward-looking partisanship that she said gave voters little idea of how he and Obama would govern," Bloomberg's Ken Fireman and Kristin Jensen write.
If you're looking for a pivot point . . . "She had passed the biggest test any vice presidential candidate faces -- a test the media was ready to declare she'd failed. Was she capable of being vice president? Based on her debate performance, the answer was yes," Fred Barnes writes in The Weekly Standard.
Palin connected with "winks -- and folksy language," ABC's Kate Snow reported on "Good Morning America" Friday. "There was only one real show of emotion . . . Joe Biden was talking about being a single parent after his first wife died."
Biden owned the emotional core, and: "Palin did not respond to Biden's emotional display, instead offering a variation of a line she used throughout the night. 'People aren't looking for more of the same,' she said," the Los Angeles Times' Cathleen Decker and Michael Finnegan report.
Biden's "Bridge to Nowhere" line on healthcare was whipped into a quickie national cable ad.
Praise, of a sort: "Sarah Palin's high-energy performance in the vice-presidential debate was the most glaring demonstration -- since George W. Bush's performances in 2000 -- of how little you can get away with knowing and still survive one of these things, especially if the rules limit the cross-examination as severely as they did in this debate," Time's Joe Klein writes. "Her relentless opacity was impressive."
What you bring is what you get: "Those disposed to find Palin cheerful and down-to-earth probably liked what they saw, while those who find Biden to be an appealing mix of traditional Democratic values and policy expertise probably came away impressed," Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe.
"What voters took away from the encounter in St. Louis -- who they thought won or lost the encounter -- probably depended a great deal on what they expected coming into it," Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal.
Astonishing on several levels: "I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let 'em know my track record also," Palin said.
Overdone (doing it all at once?): "Say it ain't so, Joe. There you go again, pointing backwards again."
"She did not prevail -- Joe Biden was too good," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "But Palin was left standing in her spike heels after 90 minutes on the stage at Washington University, and after some of the loopy interviews she gave in the run-up to the first and only vice presidential debate, that was some accomplishment."
"Sarah Palin never looked out of her depth," Stephen Dinan writes for the Washington Times. "That's not to say she kept up with her opponent, whose three decades in the Senate helped him frame long, complex answers steeped in Washington minutiae of legislative back-and-forth, amendments and votes on final passage."
"Let's pay Palin the respect of treating her exactly as a male candidate would be treated. And that means saying this: She was simply nowhere near as good as Joe Biden," Scot Lehigh writes in his Boston Globe column.
A smart way to watch: "No matter how McCain's fortunes turn out in November, Palin sent a signal tonight that she's probably going to be on the national political stage for quite some time," the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody writes.
From the fact-check desk: "Gov. Palin came out swinging last night...but some of her punches were crooked," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "GMA" Friday.
"Sarah Palin got her facts wrong in Thursday's debate with Joe Biden when discussing where John McCain stands on new protections for homeowners facing foreclosures," per ABC's Teddy Davis.
Per USA Today: "The claim: Palin said Obama wants a 'universal, government-run program' and 'health care being taken over by the feds.' The facts: Obama's health-care plan does not call for a government takeover. In fact, it isn't even universal."
What's next: "A shifting map appears increasingly to favor the Democrat, but top aides to both candidates said Thursday that they would go on attack: Obama with the aim of keeping the campaign centered on voters' economic worries, McCain with the hope of 'turning the page' on the crisis and returning to worries about Obama," Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin write for Politico.
Meanwhile, off stage, a map was falling apart.
Jonathan Martin's Politico scoop on McCain's move out of Michigan set a new negative storyline in motion. (Where will he still be on offense -- as opposed to Indiana/Colorado style defense disguised as offense? And how would that Mitt Romney pick look now?)
"Ceding Michigan is a major blow to the McCain campaign, which had spent heavily on television commercials there and where Mr. McCain had campaigned repeatedly in the hopes that he could appeal to enough blue-collar voters, so-called Reagan Democrats and independent voters, to bring the state back into the Republican column in November," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times.
ABC's David Chalian: "Although McCain's move does not deliver a net gain of electoral votes into Obama's column, the significance of taking the populous state off the battlefield cannot be overstated. . . . The Obama campaign can now start to increasing resources to protect other potentially vulnerable Democratic turf now that Michigan appears to be wiped off the battleground state map."
"The decision was another sign of McCain's weakening position amid the nation's economic turbulence, and it came as a surprise even to Michigan's Republican Party chairman, who was notified in a morning phone call," Maeve Reston, Dan Morain, and Seema Mehta report in the Los Angeles Times.
The Washington Independent's Sridhar Pappu calls it a mistake: "As the darkened Detroit afternoon turned into a chilly night, political operatives and reporters alike were left a little like the characters in 'Heroes' -- disoriented and confused after the Haitian guy wipes away their memories."
Pressing his advantage: In a Detroit Free Press editorial board meeting, Obama "left open the possibility that he would name his treasury secretary before the Nov. 4 election, acknowledging the greatly expanded powers of the job should Congress approve a financial bailout plan that gives the federal government sweeping power over financial markets," per the Free Press' Chris Christoff. "He said there are three or four people he'd consider, though he wouldn't name them."
Add to that, Florida: "Florida Republican leaders hastily convened a top secret meeting this week to grapple with Sen. John McCain's sagging performance in this must-win state," Alex Leary, Jennifer Liberto and Steve Bousquet report in the St. Petersburg Times. "The polls come amid a cascade of bad news about the economy, an issue that McCain has struggled with in recent days.
More on the pile: "Another trend is favoring Sen. Obama as well heading into the campaign's final month, with voter-registration rolls in eight competitive states showing a bigger jump in new Democrats than Republicans. Iowa and Nevada -- two states won by President George W. Bush in 2004 -- have reversed longstanding trends and now have more registered Democrats than Republicans," The Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler and Nick Timiraos write.
Does one electoral vote make up for it all? "Much of McCain's gain appears to derive from a renewed appeal in Maine's Second, the largest district east of the Mississippi River, sprawling through the state's rural north and east. Maine consultants describe the differences between the electorates in their two districts in lifestyle terms: the southern, liberal First is hiking and kayaking, the Second is hunting and fishing," Sasha Issenberg reports in The Boston Globe.
Out of the wreckage: "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) now must win Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Minnesota in order to get enough electoral votes to win the presidency, his campaign says," per Politico's Mike Allen. "McCain has very limited ways to win, with no room for error. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) still has many routes to the White House and so can afford to campaign on a much broader playing field."
In the real world (such as it is) -- do we get to move on now? Look for an early afternoon vote in the House on the bailout package (or whatever we're supposed to call it these days).
"House Democrats said late Thursday night that they would bring the $700 billion economic bailout package to the floor for a vote on Friday, signaling confidence that they had enough support to pass the bill," David M. Herszenhorn and Robert Pear report in The New York Times.
It could be interesting yet: "At least five members who had opposed the original plan said they would now support it, leaving backers just seven short of a majority," David R. Sands and Kara Rowland write for the Washington Times. "An even larger bloc of more than a dozen lawmakers who voted 'no' on Monday said they were prepared to switch if the initial payout under the plan was sharply cut and if pork spending projects added by the Senate Wednesday night were stripped from the bill."
Look who's putting himself on the line (again): "Sen. John McCain is 'guardedly confident' that the U.S. House of Representatives will pass the $700 billion economic bailout package today, noting that even though arm-twisting isn't his brand of politics, he's been working the phones," per Allison Sherry of The Denver Post.
" 'I've never been any good at threatening people,' the Arizona presidential hopeful said in a Denver Post editorial board meeting Thursday. He said he talked fellow Arizonan Rep. John Shadegg into changing his vote to a yes. 'Usually I like for things to stand on their own merit. In this case, I'm calling them.' "
Shock of the season (even after that cover!): "The election of Obama -- a man of mixed ethnicity, at once comfortable in the world and utterly representative of twenty-first-century America -- would, at a stroke, reverse our country's image abroad and refresh its spirit at home. His ascendance to the Presidency would be a symbolic culmination of the civil- and voting-rights acts of the nineteen-sixties and the century-long struggles for equality that preceded them," write "The Editors" at The New Yorker.
Barack Obama holds a community gathering in Abington, Penn. at 11 am ET.
Joe Biden speaks at his son's deployment at 11 am ET in Dover, Del.
John McCain spends a second day in Colorado -- Friday he holds a town hall meeting in Pueblo.
Sarah Palin heads to Texas for fundraisers in Dallas and San Antonio.
If you're staying in St. Louis: President Bush attends a Kenny Hulshof for Governor dinner at 6:50 pm ET. He will then travel to his ranch in Crawford, Tex.
"Why aren't you gaffing? . . . No gaffes? This is boring!" -- "Daily Show" reporter John Oliver, in the press filing center in St. Louis.
"Everybody gets extra credit tonight." -- Gwen Ifill, summing up a night.
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