With 32% of voters saying tonight’s vice presidential debate is Very Important in deciding how they will ultimately vote and Barack Obama having pulled out to a 5.7% lead in the Real Clear Politics average of the major polls, the stakes for Alaska Governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin are indeed high. Given the surge in the polls Obama has enjoyed over the past two weeks, with 74% of voters indicating they are Very Likely to watch, tonight’s debate may be one of the last opportunities for the McCain/Palin team to break the Democrat’s momentum. Though analysts and pundits were split over who won Friday evening’s presidential debate, voters gave the win to Obama, edging out McCain 36% to 33%. In the process, Obama moved into the lead for being most trusted on 10 major issues from taxes and health care to Social Security and the environment. Though statistically insignificant at 1%, Obama has even taken the lead from McCain on the issue of who you trust more to handle the war in Iraq. Though these numbers add to the dark clouds that have doggedly stalked the McCain campaign over the past two weeks, there is a proverbial silver lining and glimmer of hope. While McCain was narrowly lost to Obama in Rassmussen’s post-debate poll, 31% of voters were undecided. That corresponds directly with the 32% of voters indicating tonight’s showdown between the two second-seaters will greatly influence their vote in the presidential race. While this provides the Republican ticket an opening in what appears to be a closing window of opportunity, it also compounds the pressure placed on Palin. Having stumbled energetically through a handful of televised interviews of the past month that could most charitably by characterized as less than reassuring, expectations for her performance are exceedingly low in the media. With visions of Dan Quayle haunting Republicans and filling political cartoons, Palin finds herself in an unenviable position. Much like the days leading up to her selection as his running mate, McCain again looks to the Alaska Governor to provide him with game-changing relief. Having initially energized a previously uninspired Republican base and stolen the media spotlight from Obama, subsequent concerns about her substance and credibility have resulted in the bloom falling off the Alaskan rose. That being the case, tonight’s debate may well be a tipping point. The pressure is on for Palin to deliver a concise, focused, substantive and credible performance. Delivering that, she and McCain live to fight another day. Should the House follow the Senate’s lead and pass the $700 billion bank bailout/rescue package, the dire economic headlines may subside and provide the Republican ticket with a long sought after respite. In conjunction with a strong showing on Palin’s part tonight, this may allow McCain to arrest the freefall he’s suffered in the polls of late. With little more than four weeks left in the campaign, it may be the Republican’s last chance to mount a credible counteroffensive in the face of the Democrat’s growing momentum. If that is to happen, Palin must rally the troops tonight, signaling that the battle is not yet lost and steeling their will for a final, climatic surge. In contrast, should Palin appear out of her depth and over her head, it will confirm the growing impression among the media and the electorate that she is unqualified and was a rash, if not cynical, pick. Should that occur, for all intents and purposes, barring an unforeseen October surprise, the race will effectively be over. So, faithful readers, the question is – Will the Alaskan rose boldly bloom yet again or die, withering sadly on the vine, a pale and faded shadowed of its once radiant self? Stay tuned for further updates as events warrant and the horticultural forecast firms up.