ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan talk almost daily while the two are on the campaign trail, but heading into Thursday’s vice presidential debate it is clear the top of the ticket doesn’t know much about his running mate’s debate history.
On CNN Tuesday evening, Romney said he didn’t know how Ryan “will deal with this debate,” trying to tamp down expectations for the only vice presidential debate Thursday and noting that Joe Biden is an “experienced debater.”
” I don’t know how Paul will take on the debate,” Ryan told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “Obviously the Vice President has done 15-20 debates in his lifetime—he is an experienced debater—I think this is Paul’s first debate. I may be wrong, he may have done something in high school we don’t know. But, it will be a new experience for Paul, but I am sure he will do fine. Frankly, he has policy, facts, and results on his side. So I think you find in the analysis people make the assessment on these debates not so much on the theatrics or smoothness of the presenter, but the policies and pathways being described.”
Tune in to ABCNews.com on Thursday for livestreaming coverage of the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate moderated by ABC’s Martha Raddatz in Danville, Ky. Coverage kicks off with ABC News’ live preview show at noon, and full debate coverage begins at 8 p.m.
Ryan has actually participated in at least eight debates during his fourteen years in congress according to available articles and information provided by the Ryan campaign. An examination of them shows topics that have been raised during this campaign, from his vote for TARP to Medicare.
In Ryan’s first campaign in 1998, he debated his Democratic opponent and local politician Lydia Spottswood. Two years before she was narrowly defeated by incumbent Mark Neumann. In 1998, the Republican decided not to run and Spottswood was widely thought to be a shoo-in because of her narrow loss in 1996. Ryan was 27 and she was 47 and in the debate she noted she was old enough to be Ryan’s mother, according to the Boston Globe. Spottswood would be Ryan’s last credible opponent. But that didn’t keep him from debating subsequent challengers.
In 2000, Ryan debated Democratic challenger and surgeon from Janesville, Jeffrey Thomas and even then the debate focused on Social Security and Medicare, according to the Journal Times of Racine, Wisc.
“In 1965 they didn’t have the prescriptions we do today,” Ryan said to Thomas.”I believe we need to modernize Medicare.”
In 2002 and 2004 Ryan faced his same opponent as 2000: surgeon from Janesville, Jeffrey Thomas. A Ryan spokesperson says according to Ryan’s Wisconsin chief of staff, an advisor since he first entered Congress, Ryan also debated Thomas twice in 2002 and twice in 2004, although no coverage of those debates could be found through an exhaustive search.
Ryan also faced Thomas in 2006, but did not debate him. However, according to a Racine Journal Sentinel article, Thomas and Ryan were “casual friends” and Ryan even returned to Wisconsin for Thomas’ 2009 funeral.
In 2008, Ryan debated Democratic challenger and businesswoman Marge Krupp . The topic of his vote in favor of the Wall Street bailout known as TARP came up, according to the Janesville Gazette.
“It is a harrowing situation,” Ryan said. “We’ve never seen an economic storm like this in our lifetimes. We have to suspend the (stock markets) crash.”
“This plan, as ugly as it is and as faulty as it is, is not designed to prevent a recession but to prevent a crash and a deeper recession,” Ryan said. “If the credit crunch persists too long, businesses that are good businesses will go out of business.”
In 2010, Ryan debated Democrat John Heckenlively, former editor at Racine Labor, a labor paper, and a former social studies teacher.
According to the Journal Times Heckenlively brought up “Republicans not working with Democrats. But Ryan said that Democrats never even allow bills proposed by Republicans to get debated.” Ryan was then asked how to get the two parties to work together, and Ryan said there needs to be a change in party control.
“Switch control of Congress and then we’ll have to work together,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s 2012 challenger is Democrat and former chef and businessman from Kenosha Rob Zerban. Ryan is not going to debate Zerban this year and although there are no airworthy polls, ABC News rates the seat “safely Republican” for the GOP vice presidential nominee. One interesting note, though: In the latest fundraising period Zerban bested Ryan, raising $770,000 to Ryan’s $566,743. Ryan still has more cash on hand though $4 million to Zerban’s $2 million.
ABC News’ Sarah Parnass contributed to this story.