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Post-VP Debate Thoughts

As with the Obama-McCain debate last Friday, the vast majority of the insta-polls went to the Democratic ticket. Biden won the CBS poll of undecideds 46-21, and the CNN poll of debate watchers 51-36. Independents in the large MediaCurves focus group panel went for Biden about 2:1.

The internals, however, weren’t nearly as bad for Palin as the topline results. She got a jump in preparedness in the CBS poll, and the CNN found that a large majority of voters concluded that she had beaten their expectations.

Palin’s largest problem, to my eyes, is that she was tangibly nervous for most of the debate, rushing through talking points and canned jokes alike with unsually little inflection. I doubt that this will impact her favorables much — in fact, it seems likely that her favroables will improve. But it may contribute to the increasing feelings of dis-ease that some voters have with the McCain campaign, which no longer seems like the manifestly safer choice.

The McCain campaign did not opt, in the end, for Sarah Barracuda. They wanted
Palin scripted, and in some cases she seemed to have her lines literally memorized. This was the more risk-averse choice, but provided for few genuine moments of spontaneity.

It also allowed Joe Biden to get a lot of free shots in at John McCain, several of which were quite effective. Perhaps, in the end, this wasn’t as difficult a debate for Biden to prepare for as it had been made out to be. Hammer McCain, knowing that Palin would have to go off-script to defend him. It also allowed Biden to be the more emotive candidate.

Sean will talk more about this, but I suspect that the Sarah Palin chapter of the campaign is largely over. She may draw large crowds in her next couple of public appearances; it’s also not out of the question that the media will sour on her performance in the forthcoming days, once it’s been removed somewhat from her safety net of low expectations. But after that, she may largely fade into the background, and if she is making news, it may not be for reasons the McCain campaign likes.

At the end of the day, this is another missed opportunity for the McCain campaign, a fact which is only betrayed by conservative commentators’ hyperbolic attempts to spin to the contrary. But McCain may well have been willing to take that settlement ahead of time, figuring they had more to lose tonight than to gain.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.