On the scoreboard, both Sarah Palin and Joe Biden met their challenges tonight, but there was a great disparity in what they won.
Palin proved she could weather a confrontation without major gaffes. Biden showed he had the qualities of heart and mind to be a heartbeat from the presidency.
The interplay between the two was civil, even cordial, but it was hard to see an undecided voter being persuaded that Sarah Palin, rather than Joe Biden, should be answering that 3 A.M. phone call.
Palin was polished in hitting her talking points, even as she evaded substantively answering most questions, and there was an eerie disconnect as she persisted in repeating that Barack Obama had voted against funding the troops in Iraq, even after Biden had made clear that both McCain and Obama had done that only in the context of proposals for time lines for ending the war.
Overall, Biden handled Palin's canned attacks on Obama with good-natured factual rebuttals, while making the case that John McCain was offering more of Bush-Cheney, at one point echoing Ronald Reagan's talking point that voters ask themselves if they are better off than they were eight years ago.
Toward the end, after Palin had labeled herself and McCain, whom she has known for a month, as "mavericks" a dozen times, Biden politely demolished that contention based on seeing McCain up close as a colleague for more than two decades:
"He's been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives.
"He voted four out of five times for George Bush's budget, which put us a half a trillion dollars in debt this year and over $3 trillion in debt since he's got there.
"He has not been a maverick in providing health care for people. He has voted against including another 3.6 million children in coverage of the existing health care plan...in the United States Senate.
"He's not been a maverick when it comes to education. He has not supported tax cuts and significant changes for people being able to send their kids to college.
"He's not been a maverick on the war. He's not been a maverick on virtually anything that genuinely affects the things that people really talk about around their kitchen table."
On PBS, after the debate, historian Richard Norton Smith characterized Palin's performance as "Gidget Goes to Washington." In playing her role as a perky populist, she reminded me of another sitcom heroine, Mary Tyler Moore, who inspired her boss, Ed Asner, to say, "You're really perky, aren't you? I hate perky!"
It's unlikely that, in these threatening times for the American economy, that voters are looking for a perky vice-president.