In a debate of mostly general questions, she chose never to be any more specific than necessary. Had some planned policy points she was keen to make, but such moments were few and fleeting. Benefited from the format, which invited simplicity and avoided confrontation.
Chose to look directly at the camera most of the time rather than at Joe Biden, moderator Gwen Ifill or the live audience. Her days of intense rehearsal were apparent, but she was much smoother than in recent media interviews when unspooling canned lines and opinions. Was crisp and calm and kept her folksiness to a few short bursts but effectively unleashed her earthy, relatable charm at choice moments in a winning way.
Kept up a drumbeat of criticism against Barack Obama and, to a lesser extent, Biden but produced no sound-bite moment and was unable to rattle her opponent. Most dramatically, she charged that the Democratic ticket wants to wave a "white flag of surrender" in Iraq. Firmly hit her campaign's main themes (Obama equals higher taxes and Washington business as usual). Ably brandished the opposition research on Obama's record and promises.
Didn't always directly answer the questions but deflected and hedged with offhand subtlety. Rarely took the bait when Biden faulted John McCain. Was happy to resort to the safety of "maverick" imagery in a pinch.
By the standards of those Americans conditioned by late-night comics to think of Palin as an inarticulate idiot incapable of putting coherent sentences together or understanding basic policy questions, she succeeded enormously. She had a solid 90 minutes of rapid, confident discourse and kept herself from being the story of the night (as well as the constant punch line of the election season). Improved her image and partially turned the page on McCain's bad two weeks, enabling the Republican-ticket team to try to regain some footing in a contest that has been steadily slipping away but didn't revolutionize the race. Kicked off the debate with a demure handshake and query for Biden ("Hey, can I call you Joe?") and indulged in some winks and folksy asides (referring to Washington insiders as "guys," for instance) but otherwise didn't leave Tina Fey much to work with.