Steamboat Springs Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin held the rapt attention of Republican debate watchers Thursday night as a lodge at Storm Mountain Ranch was filled with hushed, intent local conservatives.
Only occasionally was the silence punctuated by jeers at Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., or cheers shouted after Palin's statements.
Host Mary Allen expected Palin's performance to be a "grand slam home run" before the debate began. After the show ended, she said she was satisfied that Palin had completed her goals.
"I think it was (a grand slam). She was composed, in control and on message," Allen said.
Allen described herself as an avid conservative who has lived in Steamboat half the year for the past 8 years. She said she wanted to host an informal Republican watch party because she "was upset about the fact that I felt alone in this community."
To remedy the situation, she hosted more than 50 people she described as "concerned with preserving conservative values" for dinner and drinks. The lodge held three televisions, including one large projection system with CNN's coverage of the debate.
Allen also invited Retired Air Force Col. Tom Kirk, who was held as a prisoner of war with Republican presidential nominee John McCain in Hanoi, Vietnam. Kirk, who shared his experience and endorsed McCain before the debate, said he was pleased by Palin's performance.
"I think that, fundamentally, Sarah Palin came across very strongly in knowing what she was talking about," Kirk said. "She is eminently more qualified to be vice president than Barack Obama is qualified to be president."
He also complimented Biden's performance, calling him a "gentleman," but said he thought "only half of it was true."
Some of the strongest crowd reactions during the night were jeers when Biden said climate change is manmade, and a shouted "Amen" when Palin said she did not want to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. Biden and Palin agreed on that issue, with both parties saying they would like to offer the same protections and services to same-sex couples but not change the meaning of marriage.
Despite being the star of the night, Palin barely was mentioned in the group's discussions leading up to the debate, with the focus resting on McCain. Semi-retired Steamboat Springs resident Buck Buckland said he was wary of how Palin would perform in the debate, but he was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
"I was a little hesitant with the idea that (Palin) wasn't up to the task, but she was up to the task, and she handled herself very proficiently," Buckland said. "She was not as knowledgeable and polished as she can be, but she proved she's a fast study."
Chris Allen, a construction worker in Steamboat Springs, said he appreciated Palin's lack of "polish" because it showed she was not a typical politician.
"I came away with a very favorable impression of Gov. Palin. I thought she articulated the issues very well, particularly when you notice she's not a Washington insider as she debated a Washington insider," he said.
According to CNN polls conducted after the debate, 87 percent of debate watchers thought Palin performed better than expected, with 7 percent responding that she performed worse. Despite that, Biden was considered the winner of the debate with 51 percent of responses. Palin claimed 36 percent.