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Commentary: For Palin, a tie is a win

  • Story Highlights
  • Ruben Navarrette: Palin was able to equal Joe Biden's debate performance
  • Democrats went into debate thinking it would be easy to defeat Palin, he says
  • Navarrette: Palin highlighted cases where Biden has differed with Obama
  • She proved to be a natural communicator, like Reagan and Bill Clinton, he says
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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a nationally syndicated columnist and a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Read his column here

Ruben Navarrette says Sarah Palin is a natural communicator and held her own with Joe Biden.

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Tie goes to the hockey mom.

Who won last night's vice presidential debate? The answer depends on which ticket you support. If you like Obama-Biden, then Joe Biden won.

If you prefer McCain-Palin, Sarah Palin did. That's how you can tell a tie. That's what this was. And since Biden was supposed to destroy Palin, and didn't even come close, this was a good night for the Republican.

It is Sarah Palin's world, Joe Biden just lives in it. Viewers tuned in to see Palin either fall flat, or flatten her opponent.

It makes sense. Palin is one of the most exciting, but also divisive, figures in this campaign. The other is Barack Obama. If anything, there have been moments when I thought that John McCain and Joe Biden were drags on their respective tickets -- like during the debates.

In the middle of last week, McCain won leadership accolades with his march to Capitol Hill to try to alleviate the economic crisis.

But, at week's end, he lost his match-up with Obama. McCain was rude, condescending and dismissive. He wouldn't so much as address his opponent directly or look him in the eye -- not even when moderator PBS' Jim Lehrer asked him to.

Last night, Biden started out making the same mistake. At one annoying moment, the Democrat even instructed the moderator, PBS' Gwen Ifill, that Palin hadn't answered a question. He could have said that directly to Palin, but, in a McCainesque moment, he ignored her.

Biden caught himself later when Palin -- in her best line -- informed him and Ifill that she was going to speak straight to the American people even if it meant not answering questions the way that he or Ifill wanted her to.

After that, Biden too tried to look into the camera and speak directly to Americans. It was new to him, but he took to it well.

Palin later said that she feels most comfortable bypassing the filter of the mainstream media and connecting with voters directly.

Can't say I blame her after her interviews with CBS' Katie Couric. All week, the consensus among pundits, bloggers, and other know-it-alls was that Palin was out of her depth and, in the words of conservative Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher, "an empty pantsuit."

Other conservatives, such as syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, deserted the ship altogether, and suggested McCain dump Palin.

See what kind of trouble you can get into when you're not able to -- gasp -- name your least favorite Supreme Court decisions?

I listened to the debate on the radio before watching a recording of it on television later. I thought Palin did a great job of softening up Biden, even using Obama as a club to beat up his running mate whenever she pointed out some instance where Biden and Obama disagreed, and where she thought Biden was right and Obama was wrong. There was no knockout. But Palin has a good jab.

Later, when I saw the debate on television, I was even more impressed. Palin loves the camera, and it loves her back. This is her medium, and debates are her forum. She's a natural communicator, cut of the same cloth as Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton.

Who would have thought it?

As the debate wrapped up, I was pulling into a parking lot for an evening speech to a local Democratic club. The person who greeted me shook his head and suggested that Palin had faked-out her critics by weaving a caricature of an airhead. Then, underestimated, the lipstick-wearing pit bull mauled poor Joe Biden.

Could be. The conversation brought to mind the classic film, "The Hustler." The late Paul Newman pretends to be dreadful at pool, and then, with his mark on the hook, clears the table.

Don't look now, Democrats. But you've been hustled.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

All About Sarah PalinJoseph BidenJohn McCainBarack Obama

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