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(photo credit: AP)
From a bowling alley called the Lucky Strike in Miami Beach to a smoky barroom in Wasilla, Alaska, many Americans watching the vice presidential candidates' debate agreed that Gov. Sarah Palin's performance exceeded their generally low expectations. Whether she did well enough against Sen. Joe Biden is another matter.
Brian Elias, co-owner of the Lucky Strike, had to give Palin a compliment.
"I thought she held her own. I'm much more impressed than I thought I'd be," said Elias, 45, who is a registered Republican but doesn't know whom he will vote for. "My expectation was that her performance would make it easier for me to pick Obama, but her performance kept me undecided."
But others in the crowd of more than 100 watching CNN coverage saw it differently.
"She's the queen of generalities," 27-year-old Tami Toussaint, a law school graduate who is currently unemployed, said of Palin. "I don't think she's a dumb person, I just think she's out of her league."
Up in Wasilla, where Palin began her political career as a city council member and then mayor, Bernie and Mary Ziemianek stopped in at the Mug-Shot bar after seeing a "Go Sarah!" banner. The Seattle couple, in Alaska on vacation, clapped loudly when they felt Palin scored a point in saying it would be a big mistake if the United States pulled out of Iraq.
"I like the way she's talking to the people," Mary Ziemianek said of Palin's direct look into the camera when she answered questions. "I hope some day she will be president."
But at a Mexican restaurant in Wasilla where the crowd was for Obama, a different perception reigned.
"She spoke well, but her points were either lies or manipulations," said 60-year-old Sue Gibbs, a public benefits advocate who moved to Wasilla in the mid-1980s.
As examples, Gibbs mentioned Palin's touting of McCain as a maverick and how Obama would raise taxes. "I was here when she was mayor. I thought she was horrible," she said, adding that she saw Palin mow over opponents who got in the way of what she wanted to get done.
At a gathering of the Triangle Area Skeptics in Pittsboro, North Carolina, Mike Morse came into Thursday's debate "open to the possibility" that Palin could convince him to lean back toward the Republican ticket.
The 60-year-old telecommunications manager said the Alaska governor convinced him of something - that she can persuade other Americans to vote for her and Sen. John McCain.
"I'm not any more convinced that she's capable," Morse said after watching the 90-minute debate with eight fellow skeptics. "I'm more afraid that she's a threat."
The group normally gathers to debate and debunk such topics as UFO encounters and the alleged link between vaccinations and autism, but the big question Thursday was whether Palin could convince America she is ready.
Research biologist Amanda Semore handed out "Fight Night Bingo" sheets on which watchers could check boxes when the candidates uttered certain buzz phrases like birth control, the Cold War, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright or "hockey mom." By the end of the first half hour, Biden's sheet had more X's on it, but Semore wasn't sure whether that meant he was winning or losing.
"When Palin's talking, I'm spending most of my time with my head in my hands, so I'm not really playing Bingo," said Semore, 28.
Another voter keeping a scorecard was Adele Beal, watching from her home in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. At the end of the debate, Biden's score was higher, but the 72-year-old retiree was impressed by Palin.
"She knocked my socks off," Beal said. "If she were running ... I'd vote for her for president."
Don Nygaard, viewing from his home in Edina, Minnesota, was leaning toward the Obama-Biden ticket before the debate and still is.
"I'm one of those people that likes depth of information and some backing for the statements that are made," said the 57-year-old retiree, who also acknowledged voting twice for George W. Bush. "On that point, Joe Biden was the clear winner. He had an extensive command of the issues and experience to back it up."
He said Palin "went to the easy Mom-and-apple-pie answers. ... She didn't bring facts and figures to her argument. She went to the more emotional point of view."
Before the debate, Thomas Henige of North Royalton, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, was leaning "about 52 percent McCain and 48 percent Obama," he said. But after keeping tabs in a notebook, and giving Biden a narrow 5-4 victory over Palin, he said he was going to give Obama more consideration.
"I found that she didn't flow from one point to another very easily," the retired computer consultant said. "Debating style is not how you should say someone won the debate, but sometimes when people talk imprecisely it indicates that they think imprecisely."
At Pat McMullen's, an Irish bar in Biden's hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, the crowd clearly favored Obama. But several patrons couldn't help pulling a bit for Palin.
"She's hanging in there," said Obama supporter Joe Cannizo, 50. "She doesn't sound as bad as she has at other times. I don't think her substance is as good."
Nursing a drink, Bruce Brown, 80, a retired insurance salesman who lives a few blocks from Biden's childhood home, agreed: "I love to see her doing as well as she's doing, but I still think the big guy has it."
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