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Gibson vs. Palin -- call it a draw?

Round One in Fairbanks. ABC News photo

The so-called high road sometimes can be a bridge to nowhere.

But was that the case when ABC anchor Charles Gibson stuck firmly to national security issues during his opening one-on-one exclusive with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin?

Well, it was the seventh anniversary of 9/11. So the topic had more weight than usual. Those looking for juicy "red meat," though -- how many times did you hear that tiresome cliche during the political conventions? -- may have been disappointed by the mostly vegan cuisine.

Gibson, his eyeglasses perched near the tip of his nose, took a professorial tone with Palin. At times he seemed to be picking apart a student's Masters thesis. And Palin initially came up empty when asked whether she agrees with the "Bush Doctrine."

"In what respect, Charlie?" Palin asked in turn, one of the many times she invoked his more informal Good Morning America moniker rather than the one he now uses as ABC News' point man.

Gibson subsequently schooled her on the BD, which he said was "enunciated" in September 2002 before the invasion of Iraq.

"The Bush doctrine, as I understand it," he told/lectured her, "is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that?"

Palin said she agrees that a president's "top priority is to defend the United States of America." And by God, that's what a McCain-Palin administrat ion will do.

Although he was persistent, Gibson does not have the brawling style of Bill O'Reilly. Nor the overriding sense of self-importance.

That's good and bad. O'Reilly's four-part interview with Democratic nominee Barack Obama, which concluded Wednesday night, was spiked by a series of animated exchanges.

O'Reilly succeeded in drawing Obama out, and of course interrupting him when he wasn't satisfied with an answer. But one got the feeling that Obama enjoyed this as much as his inquisitor. It often made for an action-packed event, but not one without substance.

Gibson, unlike Fox News Channel's pit bull, wasn't about to jump in and say something on the order of, "Oh, c'mon, governor, that's just not true." Instead he relied on his jab. And in the end, their first match seemed too close to call.

To her credit, Palin gave some nuanced answers and didn't seem to be in over her head. At the opening bell, though, it wasn't enough for her to basically say, "I'm ready" when asked whether voters should believe she's in fact experienced enough to be McCain's right-hand woman.

The first 10-minute segment of their interview premiered at the start of Thursday's World News. It was mostly repeated on Nightline, with a brief extra segment devoted to energy issues. As they walked along a portion of Alaska pipeline, Gibson pressed Palin on whether she now agrees with McCain that global warming is in no small part the result of "man's" doings.

Palin insisted that she's pretty much always felt this way, and hasn't lately conformed to McCain's view.

"Call me a cynic" but it seems otherwise, Gibson said.

"I think you are a cynic," Palin rejoined almost cheerfully.

She is, however, still at odds with McCain over drilling for oil in the Alaskan Arctic National Refuge referred to in shorthand as ANWR. Palin supports it, and he doesn't, but "I'm workin' on him."

Part 2 of their interview, premiering on Friday's World News, will be on domestic affairs and Palin's record as both governor and small-town mayor.

That's likely going to be the "red meat" portion of their two-rounder. Gibson, basically in a no-win situation, can "redeem" himself in the eyes of some by going for a knockout.

But Palin is an artful dodger, and no pushover. So their Battle of the Sexes has no clear favorite as each consults their cornermen before re-entering the ring. The Pit Bull with Lipstick vs. The Wizened Whiskered East Coast Terrier.

Everyone seems to have a dog in this fight.