The biggest message about Thursday night’s encounter between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan may be that debates work better when all the participants show up.
Strong performances from Biden, Ryan, and moderator Martha Raddatz produced one of the most engaging, enlightening, and entertaining debates of recent memory, one marked by dramatic contrasts in priorities, ideology, and personal style.
The debate was intriguing in many ways; here are five of the most important:
Ryan turned in a composed and confident performance, but Biden delivered more of what his side needed. Biden reawakened dispirited Democrats by pressing the party’s case against the Republican ticket with a vigor and conviction utterly lacking from President Obama’s mailed-in performance in the first presidential debate.
Ryan, exchange for exchange, generally held his own. Cool and steady, he displayed none of the nerves evident during the first half of his acceptance speech at the GOP convention in August.
The debate sharpened contrasts between the two tickets that could play a larger role in the final weeks. Ryan forcefully presented the GOP argument that Obama has allowed dangers to gather against the U.S., especially in the Middle East, by projecting weakness to the world. But Biden countered with an unexpectedly strong, and persistent, effort to portray the Republican ticket, in effect, as war-mongers.
The contrast in style between the two men was every bit as great as expected.
In all, while the debate will probably help walk back despondent Democrats from the ledge, it actually showed why the nation appears headed for its third photo finish in the past four presidential elections.
NATIONAL JOURNAL’S PRESIDENTIAL RACE REPORT
Spirited Biden Debate Performance Allows Democrats to Exhale
[National Journal, 10/12/12] Biden took some of the heat off his boss in the critical home stretch of the 2012 election, delivering a spirited debate performance against Ryan that aimed to compensate for Obama’s lifeless appearance a week ago. The likely result, writes NJ’s Beth Reinhard: a race that is as tight and unpredictable as ever.
White House: Biden, Obama Didn't Know of Libya Security Requests
[The Hill, 10/12/12] The White House on Friday said Vice President Biden was speaking for himself and President Obama when he said the administration was unaware of additional requests for security in Libya.
Democrats Get the Debate They Wanted
[Talking Points Memo, 10/12/12] Democrats wanted an aggressive Joe Biden at the vice presidential debate, and they got one. And Biden’s central message to the audience watching: you can’t trust what the Romney-Ryan ticket says.
Crazy Joe Biden is What the Obama Campaign Needed NEW!
[Atlantic, 10/12/12] Biden’s task was to turn the page on the president’s disastrous debate last week and to throw a wrench in the suddenly-on-a-roll Romney campaign’s progress. Biden’s crazy antics may have accomplished this mission.
Surrogates Spin Ryan, Biden Performances During Veep Debate
[National Journal, 10/12/12] Partisans took to the morning shows just hours after the first and only vice presidential debate, with both sides arguing over style, substance and outcome. Republicans hit Biden for being rude and overly aggressive, while Democrats defended the VP’s “passion.”
Showing His Teeth, Biden Spurs Debate on His Performance
[New York Times, 10/12/12] Democrats were cheered by Biden’s performance, but nearly all Republicans -- and some in the media -- questioned the vice president’s constant interruptions, smirks and eye-rolls. Meanwhile, some are trying to compare Biden's performance to Gore's sighs from 2000.
Hosting of Debate ‘Nearly Flawless,’ Centre President Says NEW!
[Courier-Journal, 10/12/12] The president of Centre College, which hosted Thursday night’s vice presidential debate, John Allen Roush said the face-off went as well as possible, with no major hiccups. For Kentucky, Allen said, the debate meant at least one night where the state was the focus of a national election.
Analysis: Paul Ryan Wins Debate as Joe Biden Fails to Embarrass Rival
[National Journal, 10/11/12] NJ’s Michael Hirsh writes that Biden failed in his goal of regaining the offensive against the GOP ticket after the first presidential debate. Like Obama before him, Biden failed to pin his GOP opponent down on his flip-flopping.
The VP Debate, by the Numbers NEW!
[Washington Post, 10/12/12] 30: the number of times Medicare was mentioned. 14: The number of times Biden referred to Ryan as “my friend.” And finally, 3: the number of times Biden used the term “malarkey.”
CNN Poll: Debate Watchers Split on Who Won VP Debate
[CNN, 10/11/12] Forty-eight percent of voters who watched the vice presidential debate think that Ryan won the showdown, according to a CNN.ORC International nationwide poll conducted just after Thursday night’s face-off, while 44 percent say that Biden was victorious. A CBS poll found Biden bested Ryan among the uncommitted, 50 percent to 31 percent.
The Bully vs. the Wonk
[Wall Street Journal, 10/12/12] Calling it “the least illuminating presidential or vice presidential debate of our lifetimes,” the editorial page editors note that, by some counts, Biden interrupted Ryan between 80 and 100 times. “Mr. Ryan let the bully get away with too much for our tastes.”
Obama’s North Carolina Ads Highlight Romney’s Dilemma
[National Journal, 10/12/12] They may not be playing to win in North Carolina, the swing state Obama is least likely to win, but Obama’s team is staying competitive enough to force Romney and his allies to pour millions into the state. It’s money Team Romney would desperately like to spend elsewhere.