Media: VP debate unlike any other
By: Mackenzie Weinger
October 10, 2012 07:34 AM EDT
Many in the media say Thursday’s Joe Biden-Paul Ryan vice presidential debate is all about one word: pressure.
Pundits and reporters told POLITICO that the pressure’s on Biden to deliver the aggressive performance President Barack Obama failed to have at last week’s debate. And the pressure’s on Ryan to keep up the momentum his running mate Mitt Romney created just a week ago in Denver.
Vice presidential debates are often seen as an October sideshow — an entertaining albeit mostly unimportant aspect of the presidential race — but it’s now a different ballgame, according to those in the media. Thanks to the overwhelming feeling that Romney won and Obama lost the first debate, some say this face-off will be an important factor in determining where the momentum of the race shifts in the minds of voters.
“I think that increases the pressure on both of them, Ryan and Biden — and certainly on the vice president to show up, because I’m not sure Obama did show up for his debate,” Current TV’s liberal talk show host Bill Press told POLITICO. “Biden needs to show up and be aggressive and assertive and sort of take charge. I think it also increases the pressure on Paul Ryan to put in a good performance, to match the good performance his running mate put in.”
In Danville, Biden is faced with the task of delivering “the debate performance Obama didn’t,” MSNBC host and Salon senior political writer Steve Kornacki said.
“Every criticism that Democrats had about Obama’s performance, about his refusal, unwillingness, inability, whatever it is, to engage Romney – all the claims Romney was making, all the attacks he was leveling, all of the specifics he wasn’t providing – it’s on Biden, I think, to go after Ryan in those ways and to try to corner him on all these vulnerabilities,” Kornacki said in an interview. “And beyond that, to show some life. Show that he actually has some blood in his veins. The good news if you’re a Democrat is that you know Biden does have some blood in his veins. The risk of that obviously is that whole reputation for being gaffe-prone.”
Although the night matches up Ryan and Biden, what really matters is how the two VP picks pitch the men at the top of their respective tickets to undecided voters, Daily News columnist and MSNBC host S.E. Cupp said.
“Obama needs a good night,” Cupp said. “And Romney needs his ticket to look strong and competent. Both teams will be speaking to those undecideds and soft Obama voters who may be disappointed and looking for a reason to stay or go.”
And after a week where the media focused on the president’s poor performance, “this really is the first opportunity, certainly for the Obama campaign, to change the terms of the debate, so to speak, to change the chatter,” ABC News political director Amy Walter said in an interview.
Biden will likely be more “aggressive and try to make up for the shortcomings of Obama in the first debate,” Walter said. Ryan, meanwhile, is a “guy who knows his numbers” — and it’s important for him to maintain a very delicate balancing act with those numbers during the debate, she added.
“He is very comfortable with a PowerPoint presentation,” Walter said. “He can’t get lost in the weeds of the PowerPoint. He’s got to take those numbers and make them real, make them mean something to the people who are watching the debate. He also has to defend his record and his running mate’s record, while not appearing too defensive. The Romney campaign for the first time in a very long time is on its toes instead of on its heels, and that’s where he needs to stay.”
As for Biden, CNN’s senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash said there’s no question he’s a very skilled debater and a savvy politican, but there’s always the possibility that the vice president could veer off script and fall into familiar gaffe territory.
“There’s always the expectations game and you hear the spin from each camp. In this case, Ryan happens to be right – Biden is very experienced and the thing about him that I find so interesting is that Biden can really get his points across in a fighting way, but he does it in a folksy way,” Bash told POLITICO. “That’s one of the things that is most endearing about Joe Biden and most scary about Joe Biden for the Obama campaign, because he tends to be so folksy that he falls off the script some of the time. I can’t imagine that happening in the debate, because he’ll be so worried about it, but you never know.”
Yet for all of Biden’s years of practice, conservative radio host Glenn Beck said the VP has a lot to fear from the Wisconsin congressman.
“This is a historic debate as it’s the old guard versus the new guard. It’s important to not disregard Joe Biden — he’s been around forever and knows how to play the Washington game. He is the definition of the institution that Americans had hoped we changed. But he has to take on Paul Ryan, who comes armed with facts, substantive arguments, and quite frankly, better abs and hair,” Beck said.
But a major concern for Ryan, according to Kornacki, is that the congressman “has not handled follow-up questions well” from the media. Biden’s going to “come after” Ryan on the budget and the question of deductions and loopholes, and the congressman needs to be prepared for that kind of scrutiny, Kornacki said.
“When he’s been asked specific questions — you know, how long is it going to take to balance Romney’s budget plan, for instance, when he’s asked questions about deductions, about the tax plan — he has really been at a loss to answer it and he’s not been good at kind of running out the clock,” he said, later adding, “I’m not sure how good Ryan’s going to be at responding to that and that I think is something he has to work on and be ready for.”
Much like the first debate, this showdown should prove “very substantive,” Bash said — but there’s one dynamic she said she expects to see between Biden and Paul that was notably absent in the Romney-Obama meeting.
“These guys know each other,” Bash said of Biden and Paul. “They served together in Congress. They have worked together since Biden has been at the White House, been vice president. They have dealt with each other on healthcare, as much as Republicans and Democrats dealt with each other at all, on budgets, on taxes, and they know each other personally. I don’t think you can discount that as a factor in the dynamic that you’re going to see.”
Biden and Ryan may be a “generation apart, but they’re not that different,” Bash noted. For all the policy differences between the two candidates, the millions of voters who tune in Thursday night can expect to witness a “folksy” showdown.
“Biden’s folksy, and Ryan is as well,” she said. “He tries to be the aw-shucks Midwestern guy who hasn’t changed since he left Janesville, just like Biden tries to be the scrappy guy from Scranton. They’re a generation apart. but they’re not that different in terms of the ‘I am who I am’ kind of thing.”