Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin defended John McCain as a reform-minded maverick while Democratic rival Joe Biden sought to tie his longtime Senate colleague to unpopular Bush administration policies during their first face-to-face encounter and only debate.
"I think things went very well last night," Palin said Friday as she flew to Texas for a fundraiser. McCain told supporters at a town-hall meeting in Pueblo, Colo.: "You know, I almost felt a little sorry last night for my old friend Joe Biden. She did a magnificent job." He drew cheers when he declared, "Viva la Barracuda!"
Two quick polls indicated that Biden fared better in the debate. A CBS News/Knowledge Networks Poll found that 46 percent of uncommitted voters who watched the debate thought Biden won, with 21 percent siding with Palin. A CNN poll found respondents judging Biden the winner by a margin of 51 percent to 36 percent but calling Palin more likable by 54 percent to Biden's 36 percent.
In the 90-minute forum broadcast Thursday night from Washington University in St. Louis, Palin was under intense pressure to show basic competence on issues facing the next president after a series of embarrassing television interviews called into question her readiness for high office. For the most part she appeared confident and folksy, but she also sidestepped certain questions, pivoting at times to talking points and generalities.
Palin contended in the debate that she and McCain are two mavericks who sometimes don't agree. An example of a strategy difference came Friday when she told Fox News that she disagreed with the McCain campaign's decision to abandon their effort to win Michigan.
"I want to get back to Michigan and I want to try," said Palin, who acknowledged that polls in the state show the Obama-Biden ticket outdistancing McCain-Palin.
In the debate, Palin tried to portray Biden and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama as obsessed with the failures of President Bush even as she acknowledged his administration was responsible for "huge blunders" in the war and elsewhere.
Biden largely avoided direct challenges to Palin and instead worked to undermine McCain, who has sought throughout the campaign to distance himself from an unpopular president. The Delaware senator repeatedly noted that McCain had sided with Bush on crucial issues, from launching the war in Iraq to tax policies that widened the income disparity between rich and poor.
"He's been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives," Biden said.
On other topics:
-Palin criticized the Democratic ticket for opposing offshore oil drilling. Biden chided McCain for voting against proposals to expand the development of alternative energy sources.
-Palin restated her controversial view that climate change is largely due to cyclical changes in the earth's atmosphere and not primarily caused by human behavior. Biden disagreed, saying climate change was caused by man.
-Biden reaffirmed his position that it was "patriotic" for people who earn more than $250,000 to pay additional taxes. Obama's tax plan would cut taxes for about 90 percent of Americans, Biden said. Palin called his position a "redistribution of wealth principle," but Biden shot back that fairness was the issue.
-Both said they supported partnership rights for gays and lesbians but opposed same-sex marriage.
-Palin argued that the Democrats' plan for the war in Iraq "is a white flag of surrender." Biden defended Obama's vote in May 2007 not to fund military operations there unless a timeline was set for withdrawal, even though he sharply criticized the Illinois senator's vote at the time.