Is Ryan just Biden his time?

CNN's flash poll gave victory to Ryan with 48 percent to Biden's 44. Other polls gave victory to Biden. What actually happened?

The old switcheroo: Biden was all smiles last night when Ryan was serious
Dr. James Boys
On 12 October 2012 08:57

With their bosses having struck their first blows last week, the US vice-presidential candidates took centre stage for their solitary debate last night in an event that will have done much to reinforce pre-existing perspectives on the two campaigns and the men seeking to run the White House for the next four years.

Vastly more experienced in national debate, Vice President Joe Biden was, as expected, feisty and unrelenting in his defence of his time in office and his critique of the Romney/Ryan campaign. Intriguingly one word that barely passed his lips was the name of his boss, who received scant mention.

The debate was wide ranging and sought to cover foreign and domestic policy and here the differing backgrounds were telling, as each candidate played to their bases and relative experience. With his Senate career focus on foreign affairs, Joe Biden appeared to be the stronger on international affairs, whilst his challenger, Paul Ryan, was far more comfortable when discussion turned eventually to domestic affairs and welfare reform in particular.

The debate opened with an immediate launch into the catastrophic attack on the American consulate in Benghazi and the death of the American ambassador. This was a potential foreshadowing of the impending Presidential debate on foreign policy that could do much to decide the outcome of this election. Certainly, President Obama will have nowhere to hide when the questioning begins on this subject next week.

Throughout the vice presidential debate, staged with the two men sitting opposite each other, both candidates struggled to shrug off the popularly held view of them. Paul Ryan looked boyish and initially hesitant as the debate began, whilst Joe Biden came across as more than a little smug and patronising.

If the two candidates were a little underwhelming then the moderator was worse. For the second debate in a row, the weak handling of the debate threatened to overshadow the content. Like a bad referee ruining a sports event, so the moderator last night appeared to struggle to control the proceedings and notably allocated Paul Ryan greater air time towards the end of the debate, whist appearing to shield Joe Biden in the initial stages.

The two candidates threw a great many facts and figures around, and as expected, failed to agree on any of them. The debate failed to deliver a killer line on a par with 1988's  'No Jack Kennedy' moment, but Paul Ryan was lucky to avoid Dan Quayle's fate when he made reference to the late president, a mistake Biden made a sly reference to.

The debate descended into a squabble on numerous occasions as both men sought to gain and retain the upper hand. They appeared happy to take on the traditional role of street fighter in an attempt to enable their respective bosses to appear more presidential. Certainly there was little on display last night to inspire great confidence in either man as a potential president should the unimaginable occur to the top of ticket.

At various stages both candidates sought to outdo one another with their sad tales of woe and misery, either from their own lives or the lives of citizens they had met on the campaign trial. This was compounded by the injection of religion and morality into the debate. With both candidates espousing their commitment to the Catholic faith, the issue of abortion was always likely to come up.

Both men initially appeared to handle this in an expected manner, but in a classic example of appearing not to know when to stop talking, (which may betray his lack of experience at the presidential level) Ryan stated that he was not happy with 'unelected judges' deciding policy in this area. In a year when the Republican Party has been accused by some of waging a War on Women, this remark could well be latched onto by Democrats in the remaining days of the campaign in an attempt to inspire fears over the potential risks to Roe v Wade under a Romney Administration.

With the polls tightening in the final weeks of campaign 2012 the tone is likely to turn increasingly negative as both sides seek to exploit fears rather than inspire hope in the American electorate.  In this atmosphere details count, and on this basis, Ryan could be judged to have come out ahead on two clear areas.

Firstly, Joe Biden proved, not for the first time, to be his own worst enemy. Rather than being content to present an image of an elder statesman, he resorted to smirking, laughing  and openly mocking his opponent. This would be bad enough, but at times he was caught doing so when the subject was focused upon American casualties of war.

The imagery of the VP grinning from ear to ear, whilst the conversation addressed American casualties could haunt him for the remainder of the campaign. Indeed, his smirk could be to Biden, what Al Gore's excessive and theatrical huffing and puffing were in reaction to George W. Bush's responses in 2000. Remember how that turned out for the sitting Vice President?

Finally, when the time came to make their closing (and contrite) remarks, Biden compounded Obama's mistake of last week. Despite having made an effective effort to engage directly with the American people during the debate by looking straight into the camera, when the opportunity came to do so in his final remarks, Biden stumbled over his statement, addressed the moderator and failed to engage with the electorate.

Ryan, in sharp contrast, made excellent use of the camera to connect directly with the American electorate and vitally, to specifically ask for their votes, as Romney had also done. In an election that could turn on a handful of votes, such details could matter. People give to people who ask, and last night, it was the Republican candidate who was doing the asking, and leaving his Democrat opponent flailing.

Paul Ryan did what was needed and has continued to build on the momentum that his boss initiated last week. Joe Biden raised the energy levels beyond that which his boss could manage last week. However, his failure to lay a serious blow on his younger, less experienced rival will ensure that the heavy lifting remain to be done by the president in his remaining two debates to reverse the apparent swing in voter intention that bodes ill for his reelection hopes.

Dr. James D. Boys is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. He is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King's College London, Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond University in London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @jamesdboys

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