By Robert Costa
October 11, 2012 10:42 P.M.
Danville, Ky. — From the moment he walked on stage, Paul Ryan looked serious. Vice President Biden looked loose. He had a megawatt grin and a casual manner. Ryan politely waved to the crowd, sat down, and folded his hands. It was a clear contrast from the outset, and those impressions mostly lasted for the next 90 minutes. Ryan gave steady, even-tempered answers, took notes, and stuck to his talking points.
It wasn’t Ryan as a wonk, or as the attack dog. It was Ryan as an informed Romney surrogate. That was his game plan, aides say, and for the most part, he executed.
But it wasn’t an entirely pleasant exchange. Biden repeatedly interrupted Ryan, and the congressman often struggled to complete his answers. The discussion, which frequently focused on foreign policy, didn’t feature extensive talk on entitlement reform or the economy, which are Ryan’s comfort zones.
Ryan held his own with Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when it came to the sections on Iran and Libya. He was well prepped and ready to explain the Romney position. On Libya, he criticized the Obama administration’s failure to “acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack,” and he blasted the White House for “projecting weakness abroad.”
But it wasn’t a knockout performance. Ryan is at his best when he’s talking about the fiscal crisis, and he only spent a few minutes on that issue. When he did, he shined. Ryan also impressed when he discussed his Catholic faith and his pro-life views near the end, with a warm recollection about his first child.
It seems Ryan wanted to spend more time touting Romney, even mentioning how Romney is a “car guy” who can connect with working Americans. He just didn’t have much time to do that. This was a foreign-policy debate, moderated by a foreign correspondent. Ryan didn’t stumble, and he was serious, but he rarely found his groove.