On a night when all eyes were on vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, local viewers say the Alaska governor rebounded from a series of media interviews that raised doubts about her competence and delivered a solid performance.
Republicans watching the debate at Gonzaga University said she reassured American voters that she has the intellect to be vice president, along with political grit and personal appeal.
“Sarah being Sarah – that’s what we saw tonight,” said Chuck Skirko, president of the Gonzaga College Republicans. “It was a great format for her. She’s so strong when she’s able to speak directly with people.”
Democrats agreed she performed well but also praised rival Joe Biden’s style, experience and command of the issues.
About 150 Democrats gathered at Toad Hall in the West Central neighborhood during the debate to eat moose-meat pizza and drink bottles of Alaskan Amber beer.
“I thought Palin did a lot better than I expected her to,” said Ryan Leeds. But she didn’t tackle the issues as well as Biden, he said. “She would change the subject and go back to something she knew how to talk about.”
“She wasn’t terrible,” said Eastern Washington University student Alex Franks. “I just didn’t agree with anything she said.”
Palin had become a punch line for late-night comedians, and her sometimes rambling answers to questions posed by interviewers have sewn doubts about her readiness for the White House. Many saw Thursday’s debate as her attempt to recapture the credibility she earned during the Republican National Convention.
Steve Coon, a retired teacher from Spokane who watched the debate with Republicans but claimed no partisan bent, said Palin did a good job.
“That said, you could argue that she was coached. But then, who isn’t?” he said.
Pundits may have had low expectations of the Alaska governor. But local Republican students expected a solid performance and respectful debate.
“I do think she proved herself,” said Ryan Mickey, a Gonzaga junior. “That said, I have tremendous respect for Joe Biden.”
Stephani Shriver called Palin’s straightforward style and views on foreign policy pluses.
“I liked what I heard,” said the Gonzaga biology major.
Not everyone was impressed. Robi Railey, an insurance agent, said Palin dodged questions and seemed to occasionally lose her train of thought.
“She’s been so inept that it’s sad,” Railey said. “She makes women look bad, and I don’t like that.”
Bradley Bassinger said the debate format favored Palin because the topics frequently changed, and the candidates were not pressed far beyond their talking points.
And Biden didn’t disappoint Democrats. Biden, whose verbosity can dull audiences and lead to gaffes, was on point.
“I’m actually impressed with Joe Biden’s ability to restrain himself,” said Kristine Reeves, chairwoman of the Spokane County Democrats. “I think if it was me I would have jumped down her throat by now.”