Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan met last week at Centre College in Danville Kentucky for their only Vice Presidential debate with Martha Raddatz from ABC’s World News and Nightline moderating. Both Biden and Ryan came out swinging in what was a much more contentious encounter than the initial Presidential debate. Most pundits and initial polling of the debate called the encounter between Biden and Ryan a wash. Analysts seemed to agree that the clear winner was Martha Raddatz who was able to effectively moderate the debate and highlight the key contrasts between the two candidates, and provided a strong contrast to Jim Leher who struggled to keep pace during last week’s debate.
Much like the first Presidential debate, the VP debate focused strongly on healthcare, particularly PPACA and proposed reforms to Medicare and Medicaid. Ryan repeated the attacks on the administration of PPACA’s $716 billion cut to Medicare, claiming that the Obama administration was “caught with its hand in the cookie jar” in an attempt to double-count the savings, while Biden defended it as cuts to subsidies for insurance companies.
Both candidates also outlined stark differences in their Medicare plans. Biden defended PPACA’s role in extending the solvency of the program and attacked Ryan’s proposed budget and the Romney/Ryan plan for premium assistance, claiming that it would result in drastic cuts in benefits. From there, the debate shifted to proposed Social Security changes, again with Biden attacking the Romney/Ryan plan for cutting benefits to seniors. Both Biden and Ryan traded barbs at each other, with Ryan calling Biden out as “under duress” and Biden claiming that Ryan’s figures were “malarkey” and “full of stuff.” At one point, Biden chided Ryan for suggesting that the Romney/Ryan proposed tax cuts were the likes of the Kennedy tax cuts by retorting, “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?”
Perhaps the most memorable part of the debate was not the substance, but the style and theatrics. Biden was reactive throughout Ryan’s responses, smiling, laughing, and looking exasperated at Ryan. Many saw Biden’s frequent interruptions—82 in all—and hyperbolic gestures as over the top compared to Ryan’s composed demeanor. But after Obama’s less than enthusiastic performance last week, many Democratic strategists defended the theatrics asnecessary to show Biden as engaged and willing to counterpunch the Romney/Ryan attacks.
In the end, both sides were happy with their candidate’s performance last week. In a VP debate, history tells us that it’s more important to not lose and shore up the support of your base than it is to win. Vice President Biden certainly pleased and energized the base of Democratic Party and GOP leaders commended Ryan for steady and respectful performance.
Whether the debate effected any movement among undecided voters is less certain. A CBS News poll showed Biden the winner among independents, at a near 2:1 margin, but a Pew Poll found that more independents thought Congressman Ryan won. Given the history of most VP debates, the significance of this debate on the overall election is negligible at best, but it sure does set the expectation bar high for tonight’s Presidential town hall forum.