PalinPalin did much better than I expected and, admittedly, far better than I'd hoped. I was hoping she'd do so badly that the race would be over. That did not happen. Unlike Couric, Ifill did not (and could not, according to the rules as I understand them) press her for an answer when she was non-responsive, so she could just filibuster when she didn't (I assume) have a pre-scripted answer or just deliver an answer to a different question. So there were no deer-in-the-headlights moments, although that's a pretty low standard. She did not to my mind exhibit detailed knowledge of any topic and I'm not sure how her admission that she wasn't going to necessarily answer all the questions will go over.
I thought the message that she is an expert in energy policy was a strong one, especially for low-information voters who may take her at her word for it and not realize it's not actually true. Voters might think it's okay that she doesn't know foreign policy or Supreme Court history if they think she has a different area of expertise.
I'm not sure how her folksiness will play. To me, it seemed like she was trying too hard. I watched it with my (liberal) fiance and Palin was driving her nuts. Some of her folksiness was so over-the-top I have trouble believing that many women will fall for it. "Did she just wink at the camera?!" was one thing I said out loud.
The only real gaffe I noticed was that she kept referring to our military leader in Afghanistan as "McCellan." (It's McKiernan.) I myself couldn't recall the name, although I knew immediately that it was not McClellan. Biden didn't call her on it, although he was a little conspicuous about not using his name. I don't think it was an important mistake, but it may become one, depending on how it plays out.
Regarding the substance, I think she was (perhaps unknowingly) dishonest. The line about Obama voting for taxes on families making $42,000 a year is a lie that was debunked long before the debate. Her speech about being tolerant of gay people was nice, but I wish someone had asked her whether she agreed with McCain's vote against the Employee Non-Discrimination Act.
BidenI thought Biden did great. His most important task was to assure older white voters that Obama is ready and not a scary Muslim or something, and I think he did that. He was also quite charming and even chivalrous and he did not do anything that could be perceived as being sexist or disrespectful of Palin. His thousand-watt smile may do to older white women what Palin's looks to do men of all ages.
The moment where he choked up will be remembered, and I think that combined with the fact that his son is going to Iraq, may soothe the worries of some voters about the Obama/Biden foreign policy. It was also a great reminder that Sarah Palin isn't the only candidate in the race with a family.
Biden did an excellent job of emphasizing the middle class. He gave a strong defense of progressive taxation with an implied attack on McCain's trickle-down economics, and his mentions of Scranton and his home town appeared genuine and may have established him as a "real" person in the minds of middle-class watchers. I think his explanation of McCain's health care plan was devastating as well.
He didn't have any major mistakes or gaffes. I laughed out loud when he said "Bosniaks," thinking it was a mistake, although apparently he used the term correctly. (It is the correct term for the ethnic Muslim in Bosnia, as opposes to the Serbs and the Croats.) And I was shocked when I thought he said he supports gay marriage, but he later clarified and said he does not. (Needless to say, I strongly disagree with Obama and him on that stance.)