from the atlantic's james fallows:
* Ifill, moderator: Terrible. Yes, she was constrained by the agreed debate rules. But she gave not the slightest sign of chafing against them or looking for ways to follow up the many unanswered questions or self-contradictory answers. This was the big news of the evening. Katie Couric, and for that matter Jim Lehrer, have never looked so good.
* Palin: "Beat expectations." In every single answer, she was obviously trying to fit the talking points she had learned to the air time she had to fill, knowing she could do so with impunity from the moderator. But she did it with spunk and without any of the poleaxed moments she had displayed in previous questions. The worst holes in her answers - above all, about the Vice President's role, also either mishearing or ignoring the question about her "Achilles heel" - were concealed in ways they haven't been before.
* Biden: No mistakes. This is a bigger deal than it seems, since Biden could easily have seemed bullying, condescending, chauvinistic, or whatever. He didn't. And while he was woolly-sounding in the beginning, he was commanding and authoritative - from his side's perspective - on issues of foreign policy and constitutional balance. And to all appearances sincere in his choking-up near the end when talking about having a child in peril. Overall, don't see how he could have balanced all the conflicting pressures on him much better.
* The race: No fundamental change. Which is better news for Obama than McCain.
Update: How was it, considered strictly as a debate? Of course Biden did a far better job -- he answered the questions rather than moving straight to talking points, he drew on a vastly broader range of factual references, he attacked his opponents in ways that were relevant to the subject under discussion. But this is not how the event was being watched or scored.