Opinion: Smokin' Joe

PHOTO: Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin participate in the vice presidential debate at Centre College, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky.

Joe Biden had a very tough assignment tonight. He had to show experience and gravitas without being solemn or condescending to a man who is both much younger and potentially more likable. He also had to be forceful and relentless when correcting any misrepresentation of Barack Obama's record -- or reality itself, for that matter. And he had to do all of this while avoiding excessive histrionics. That is not a simple task for a man like Biden.

The potential pitfalls were many, especially since Biden would be facing a disciplined communicator like Paul Ryan. Before the debate, I emailed a well-known journalist who has known Biden for a while. "He'll do just fine," he told me. Frankly, I wasn't so sure.

Turns out, Biden did indeed do "just fine". Buoyed by the brave and truly journalistic role played by Martha Raddatz (an expert herself on foreign policy), Biden showed commanding expertise on his favorite topic. In my book, Ryan's answers on foreign policy sounded rehearsed; Biden's seemed genuine, outbursts and all. He was frustrated and angry, but thoroughly enjoying himself, more Bill Clinton than Chris Christie. But the biggest surprise -- and the vice president's biggest gamble -- came when Raddatz turned to the economy.

In terms of poker, Biden went all in, betting on a strategy that could easily backfire: interrupting Ryan every single time he deemed necessary. It was the complete opposite of Barack Obama's "politeness". Biden was truly aggressive and at times seemed dangerously close to falling prey to his own performance. As in many other crucial confrontations, the key for Biden was to push the envelope just far enough. I think he accomplished his goal. Paul Ryan soon became either flustered or subdued, losing the debate precisely on the topic on which he has built his whole career.

Still, several questions remain. How will Biden's histrionics play with voters? Will Paul Ryan's (brave) embrace of his own conservatism on social issues hurt the GOP with female voters? And most of all, how will Barack Obama perform in next week's town hall? Will he be as creatively impatient as Biden? Will he call Romney on every half-truth, every twisting of the facts? Will he, just once, decide that it's perfectly acceptable to get just a tiny bit angry?

Guess we'll find out at Hofstra.

León Krauze is the news anchor for Univision's KMEX 34 in Los Angeles.

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