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Biden touts experience, Palin pushes 'maverick' record

  • Story Highlights
  • Joe Biden, Sarah Palin debate change, "maverick" status
  • Both candidates get good reviews for their debate performances
  • VP candidates discuss economy, foreign policy, climate change
  • Biden tries to link McCain to Bush; Palin pushes record of reform
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(CNN) -- Sen. Joe Biden gave a knowledgeable but restrained performance in Thursday night's vice presidential debate, while Gov. Sarah Palin sought to show that her accomplishments as governor and mayor prove she is qualified for the job.

Biden, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, slammed John McCain, saying "he has been no maverick on the issues that matter to people lives," but his only challenge to Palin was asking her to articulate a policy on the Iraq war.

Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, pushed her "track record of reform" and said she and McCain are a "team of mavericks."

"We're known for putting partisan politics aside to just get the job done," she said. Video Watch Biden slam McCain's "maverick" image »

The debate took place at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and was moderated by PBS's Gwen Ifill.

The candidates covered everything from the economy to energy policy to foreign policy in the first and only vice presidential debate of the election season. iReport.com: Who won? You tell us

Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, said the candidates approached the questions in different ways.

"You had two different strategies. Joe Biden's strategy was to hammer McCain, link him to the status quo and Bush. He succeeded," Begala said.

"Sarah Palin's strategy was to defend Sarah Palin and repair her damaged image, and I think she did a pretty good job of that," he said. Video Watch the candidates talk about their role as VP »

In the days leading up to the debate, Palin was heavily criticized for her television interviews with CBS' Katie Couric.

Palin stumbled through answers to questions about foreign policy, Supreme Court rulings and which newspapers she reads, causing pundits to question how she would hold up against Biden.

Republican strategist Amy Holmes said Palin "more than held her own."

"She was polished, direct, folksy and on message. She stressed her personal experience both as a mom and as a governor, from the kitchen table to the executive branch, her record as a reformer and bipartisan deal maker. She even got Biden to agree with her," Holmes said. See what the analysts thought »

Going into the debate, there was a lot of speculation about whether Biden would make any major gaffes. Biden has had a lot of experience in the public eye, but has also earned a reputation for his impetuous and brutally honest remarks.

"Joe Biden gave the best debate performance of his life. I thought he had superior knowledge, superiority on the debate overall. On political point, it maybe be a bit of a draw," said David Gergen, a senior political analyst for CNN. "As a debate, I thought he was a superior debater."

As Biden tried to tear down McCain's "maverick" status, Palin worked to portray Barack Obama as a "downright dangerous" choice for president.

Calling out Obama's remarks about being open to meeting with rogue leaders without preconditions, Palin said, "An issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naivete and goes beyond poor judgment." Photo See scenes from the debate »

In a Democratic debate last summer, the candidates were asked whether they would be "willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?"

"I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous," Obama answered.

Palin also said Obama's campaign does "too much finger-pointing" to be serious about its call for change.

"There have been huge blunders in the war. There have been huge blunders throughout this administration, as there are with every administration.

"But for a ticket that wants to talk about change and looking into the future, there's too much finger-pointing backwards to ever make us believe that's where you're going," she said.

Biden responded with, "Past is prologue."

He said it is relevant to call out problems with the Bush administration because so far, McCain's policy "is the same as George Bush's, and you know where that policy has taken us."

"We will make significant change so once again we're the most respected nation in the world," Biden said.

Some of the more heated exchanges came when the vice presidential candidates discussed Iraq, climate change and tax policy. Video Watch the candidates debate the economy »

Asked about an exit strategy for Iraq, Palin praised the surge and the work of Gen. David Petraeus.

"I know that the other ticket opposed this surge, in fact, even opposed funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Barack Obama voted against funding troops there after promising that he would not do so," she said. "And Sen. Biden, I respected you when you called him out on that."

Asked for his answer, Biden challenged Palin: "With all due respect, I didn't hear a plan."

"Barack Obama offered a clear plan. Shift responsibility to Iraqis over the next 16 months. Draw down our combat troops," he said.

"With regard to Barack Obama not, quote, funding the troops, John McCain voted the exact same way. John McCain voted against funding the troops because of an amendment he voted against had a timeline in it to draw down American troops," he said. Fact Check: Did Obama vote to cut funds for troops?

On climate change, Palin was quick to say that she isn't one to "attribute every activity of man to the changes in the climate."

"There is something to be said also for man's activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet," she said.

Biden disagreed, saying, "I think it is manmade. It's clearly manmade."

"If you don't understand what the cause is, you cannot come up with a solution," Biden said.

On taxes, Biden spoke to the middle class as he touted Obama's plan.

"When you do well, America does well," Biden said, referring to tax breaks aimed at the middle class that Obama has proposed.

Palin attacked Obama's plan as "the backwards way of defending our economy." Fact check: Obama and spending

Speaking about the current economic situation and the government's proposed rescue plan, Biden blamed some of the crisis on deregulation policies that McCain believes in.

"He voted for deregulation and that is why we are in the crisis that we are in," Biden said.

Biden said the economic bailout bill is evidence that the United States currently has the "worst economic policy we ever had."

Palin said a barometer for how Americans are feeling about the economy can be felt at kids' soccer games. Video Watch Palin say she and McCain will fight for the middle class »

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"The barometer there, I think, is going to be resounding that our economy is hurting and the federal government has not provided the sound oversight that we need and that we deserve, and we need reform to that end," she said.

Palin praised McCain's efforts to help get an economic bailout bill passed, and she said voters need to put the "maverick of the Senate" in the White House in order to reform Washington.

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