Palin Steps Up and Stuns

Expectations for the debate could not have been lower for Sarah Palin. The last of the Katie Couric interviews last night showed her at a loss to describe any U.S. Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade with which she disagreed. That set off a new round of finger-pointing and guffaws among the MSM.

And they have not been alone. For some time conservatives have been glum, if not despondent, about Palin's abilities. Questions remained whether she was up for the job or merely had been "freaked out" by poor handling by the McCain team.

The day had been another roller-coaster for the McCain camp. John McCain finally raised concern earlier in the day about Gwen Ifill's upcoming "favorable" (actually laudatory) book about Barack Obama and the potential conflict of interest. Then the McCain camp projected an air of bravado -- Palin would be going on the attack. That was just before word filtered out, later confirmed by a media conference call, that the McCain campaign was "pulling back" in Michigan and faced a "shrinking" electoral map.

So all eyes were trained on the debate. The question going into the contest tonight was simple: Would this be the final blow to a teetering McCain campaign or the beginning of a comeback? It seems that Republicans' fears were overblown.

It may not have been enough to recalibrate the race, but it certainly was enough to revive her reputation. She was alternately charming, biting, and lawyerly in marshaling her arguments. She chided Biden for looking backward and harping on the Bush adminstration. She zinged him and Barack Obama for giving up on the surge. She came back with specifics on Afghanistan and dinged Obama for voting for oil breaks in the Bush-Cheney energy bill.

In short, she entirely and completely beat the spread. Her performance, given how poorly she has fared recently, was nothing short of stunning. And Biden knew it.