CBNNews.com - It was a classic David vs. Goliath. A two-year governor from Alaska vs. a far more experienced statesman from the Senate.
Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin held her own Thursday night against the long-time senator Joe Biden, sparring over a wide range of issues including the economy, energy, the environment, and the war in Iraq.
For more post-debate analysis, click play to watch CBN News Political Reporter David Brody following this report.
After an hour and half of debating and attacking their candidates' records, Biden and Palin shook hands and were joined by their families on stage.
The evening started and ended with a hand-shake but despite the polite exchanges both candidates were unrelenting in their attacks.
The two were notably different in style. Palin, a former sportscaster, spoke primarily to the camera. Biden, an accomplished statesman from the Senate, more often addressed the moderator.
The first question dealt with the economy - a topic much on the minds of American in recent days. Biden started off criticizing the Bush administration, saying the country has suffered "the worst economic policies we've ever had."
Palin began by saying that one way to gauge how bad the situation is would be to attend a child's soccer game and listen to parents.
"Talk to those parents and I betcha you're going to hear some fear," she said.
Palin said McCain would "put partisanship aside" to help solve the nation's economic crisis, adding that corruption on Wall Street and in Washington must be checked.
"Darn right it was the predator lenders. There was deception there, and there was greed." she said when asked what she thought contributed to the crisis.
Biden blasted McCain for supporting the Bush administration's deregulation policies that allowed Wall Street to run wild. He criticized the Republican senator's initial response to the crisis when he claimed "the fundamentals of the economy are strong."
Palin countered that McCain meant the "fundamentals" were the American workers themselves. She said he sounded the alarm years ago about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but other lawmakers had ignored his warnings.
The economic debate quickly turned to the differences in tax policies between the top candidates.
Palin put Biden on defense when she referenced Obama's tax proposals as a "redistribution of wealth" policy. She noted that Obama has consistently voted against tax cuts, despite his claim to cut taxes for the middle class.
Biden shot back saying, "We don't call it redistribution, We call it fairness."
Obama has campaigned on the promise of cutting taxes for 95 percent of Americans making less than $250,000.
"The middle class is struggling," Biden said. "The middle class is the economic engine."
Palin countered that he had forgotten that small businesses fit into that segment who would be hit by Obama's policies.
As the debate turned toward foreign policy issues, Palin took aim at Obama's vote against funding for U.S. troops in combat.
She chastised Biden for defending the move, "especially with your son in the National Guard" and headed for Iraq. Both candidates have a son currently serving in Iraq.
Biden countered that McCain had also voted against funding for troops when a timetable for withdrawal was inserted into the bill.He offered a scathing rebuke of his fellow senator for his refusal to accept such a timeline, saying he was the "odd man out."
But Palin, not willing to concede ground to her rival, said that a timetable was tantamount to surrender at a moment when victory was "within sight."
"Your plan is a white flag of surrender," she said. "I don't know how you can defend that position now but - I know that you know, especially with your son in the National Guard."
She also said Biden had once supported McCain's view of the war, and noted that he had once said of Obama that he wasn't ready to be commander in chief.
As for Obama, she said, "Anyone I think who can cut off funding for the troops after promising not to - that's another story."
Energy and Environment
The two also clashed over policy differences to increase energy independence and how to reduce environmental impact.
The Obama campaign has repeatedly charged McCain with offering tax breaks for big oil and voting against alternative energy sources.
Biden said that McCain had voted "20 times against funding alternative energy sources and thinks, I guess, the only answer is drill, drill, drill."
"The chant is, `drill, baby, drill," Palin countered quickly. Palin said Obama's vote for a Bush administration-backed bill actually granted breaks to the oil industry.
On the environment, Palin declined to attribute the cause of climate change to man-made activities alone.
"There is something to be said also for man's activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet," she said, adding that she didn't want to argue about the causes.
Biden said the cause was clearly man-made.
"If you don't understand what the cause is, it's virtually impossible to come up with a solution," he said.
Throughout the evening, Biden painted McCain as being in lock-step with the Bush administration. Palin charged that the repeated bashing of Bush's mistakes is not evidence of a campaign that is looking forward to the future.
"There has been too much finger pointing backward," she said.
Biden countered that "past is prologue."
The Only VP Debate
The 90-minute debate was held at Washington University in St. Louis, with veteran journalist and PBS host Gwen Ifill moderating.
It was a high stakes face-off that some said could influence the overall campaign for the presidency. The debate was perhaps the most highly anticipated one for vice presidential campaigns in history.
Sen. Biden, 65, is a 36-year veteran of the U.S. Senate. He has extensive experience in foreign policy, and is the former chairman and long-time member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Alaska Gov. Palin is also chair of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a multistate government agency that promotes the conservation and efficient recovery of domestic oil and natural gas resources.
Palin, 44, is the first woman to be nominated for the vice presidential slot from the Republican Party. The debate was an opportunity for Palin to allay growing skepticism about her readiness to lead in high public office.