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Opening: Both are gracious in welcoming each other. Gov. Sarah Palin starts off looking nervous. But she is doing a better job of looking into the camera and speaking directly to viewers. Ronald Reagan was a master at that. So was Bill Clinton. Neither John McCain or Barack Obama did that very much during their debate. Biden hasn’t looked at the camera yet.

6:15 p.m. Did Joe Biden just try to wink at moderator Gwen Ifill, when she changed the subject to tax policy? A pretty feeble attempt at playing Palin’s winking game.

Meanwhile, Palin is holding her own. But she needs to tone down the folksy talk. When asked about the bailout, she answered by talking about going to a soccer game and asking other parents how they are doing. “I betcha you’re going to hear some fear in that parent’s voice,” she said.

Well, that’s true. But what’s that got to do with the bailout plan?

6:35 p.m. – I’m watching CNN. That graph showing the reactions of uncommitted Ohio voters is a little distracting, but it’s interesting. Palin’s numbers went up high when she talked about providing tax relief and when she said “Government is going to have to be more efficient.”

The line also went up when Biden talked about how 95 percent of America’s middle class will get a tax break under Obama’s tax plan.

When asked how Obama and Biden would adjust their platforms based on the nation’s economic crisis, Biden responded that they would need to scale back on their promise to double overseas funding. Palin said she and McCain would change nothing. Really? How about that pledge to balance the budget in four years?

Score that round for Biden.

6:45 p.m. Biden is starting to get animated when he talks about national security. Doing a much better job of looking at the camera. Ohio voters are responding favorable. I love that graph.

6:55 p.m. The topic has switched to Middle East. Biden is doing a much better job now. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they are in his wheelhouse. Palin is in over her head. When asked if the Bush administration’s policies concerning the Middle East, she smiled and said “no.” She then goes on to say “there’s just too much finger-pointing.” It strikes me that she is smiling too brightly for a discussion about a five-year war that has cost 4,000 American lives.

7:05 p.m. Biden strongly denies supporting McCain’s plan on the Iraq War. Going into the war, he said, “John McCain said exactly what Dick Cheney said.” Ouch. Palin really stumbled over her response and avoided the question about McCain’s support of the war. “John McCain knows how to win a war,” she says. “He knows what evil is . . .” What does that mean?

7:10 p.m. The CNN graph shows both scored well with Ohio undecideds on the “heartbeat away” answers. Both basically said they would continue Obama’s/McCain’s policies should they become president. Biden used it as an opportunity to talk about restoring the middle class, creating affordable health care and assuring a college education. Palin said something about supporting McCain’s policies for helping middle America and getting government “out of the way.”

7:20 p.m. Biden got a little choked up right there. Ohio voters liked it. They both were asked what their real Achilles’ Heel is. Palin denied it was her inexperience. She said she would put her mayoral and small business “experience to good use.” She said her strength is “my connection with the heartland of America.” She then went on to talk about being the mother of a special needs child, of being the mother of a soldier in Iraq, etc.

Biden was asked if his Achilles’ Heel was his “lack of discipline.” He laughed. He said he wasn’t going to change and then started rambling about Bosnia and other policies when he suddenly switched to being personal, “I know what it’s like to be a single parent,” he said. He talked about losing his wife and child. “I know what it’s like to have a child who might not make it . . .” That’s when he got a little emotional. The Ohio undecideds liked that personal side. I want to see a replay of that segment.

7: 30 p.m. In their closing remarks, Palin did a good job of being gracious and folksy. “We are going to fight for your freedoms.” She said.

Biden, believe it or not, actually came across as more middle America. He talked about how in his town of Scranton, Penn when he was growing up it was “all about integrity and respect.” He shared the story of when his father told him, “Champ, when you get knocked down, you’ve got to get up.” He then said America needed to get up. A good ending.

I’ll file another blog item wrapping up some of my thoughts.

– Paul Gullixson