Veteran Debater Joe Biden Readies for Vice Presidential Debate

Oct 10, 2012 6:00am
ap joe biden iowa nt 121004 wblog Veteran Debater Joe Biden Readies for Vice Presidential Debate

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With 40 years of debating experience under his belt, Vice President Joe Biden hunkered down for several days of intensive preparation in his hometown of Wilmington, Del. this week ahead of his duel with Rep. Paul Ryan in Danville, Ky., this Thursday.

The vice president has been studying and watching videos of Ryan’s interviews and speeches, and he has read a book co-authored by Ryan and Reps. Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy. Biden has incorporated portions of the book he disagrees with into speeches on the campaign trail.

Biden has held mock debates against Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, with Biden’s communications director and former Washington Post reporter Shailagh Murray playing the role of the debate moderator, ABC News’ Martha Raddatz.

Tune in to ABCNews.com on Thursday for live streaming coverage of the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate in Danville, Ky. Coverage kicks off with ABC News’ live preview show at noon, and full debate coverage begins at 8 p.m. 

Accompanying Biden at debate prep this week are long-time advisers like former Sen. Ted Kaufman and Mike Donilon. David Axelrod, senior adviser to the Obama campaign, is also attending the debate prep sessions, a decision which was made weeks ago.

Van Hollen has served alongside Ryan on the budget committee and has said he hopes to give Biden an understanding of how the Wisconsin congressman will argue his case.

“I know the way Paul Ryan likes to present his arguments.  The vice president, as you know, is very familiar with the key issues, and I hope I can help him get a sense of how Paul Ryan likes to present it,” Van Hollen said in an interview on MSNBC last month.

At the time, Van Hollen predicted Biden would “kick my butt” in the mock debates.

By ABC News’ count, Biden has participated in 23 debates over his career as a senator, presidential candidate, and vice presidential candidate.  During the 2008 election, he appeared at 14 debates as a Democratic presidential contender and sparred with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin at the lone VP debate of the cycle.

Biden also took part in two presidential debates when he ran for the Democratic nomination as president  in 1988. Ryan has debated eight times in the 13 years he’s been a congressman.

While a campaign official told ABC News Biden’s team is “not re-inventing the preparation wheel,” the approach Biden takes at Thursday night’s debate may differ from the way he handled his debate against Palin.  In the 2008 vice presidential debate, Biden focused most of his attention on attacking Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, with only making passing references to Palin.  But in this year’s debate, Biden will likely target Ryan, who he says has given more definition to Romney’s campaign, and his programs head on.

“Like President Obama, Vice President Biden will use the upcoming debate as an opportunity to speak directly to the American people about what’s at stake for the middle class in this election,” a campaign official said.  “He will continue to drive home the specific plans he and the president have to keep strengthening our economy and the middle class.”

After President Obama’s lackluster performance in the first presidential debate last week, the stakes for Biden have heightened, and the campaign hopes the vice president can capitalize on his connection to the middle class.

“The Vice President has throughout his career spoken passionately about middle-class families and the need for government to take action to ensure that the middle class is strengthened, that middle-class security is enhanced,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who also served as Biden’s communications director, told reporters aboard Air Force One Tuesday.

“The Vice President speaks passionately about these issues because they reflect where he comes from and what he believes and what his values are.  And I expect anytime he stands before the American people to talk about the President’s record on these issues he’ll do so in a forceful and compelling way,” he said

But the campaign also realizes the debate is as much about Biden’s performance as it is about Ryan’s.

“The question here is which Paul Ryan is going to come to the debate later this week.  Is it going to be the Paul Ryan who has been misleading about everything from his marathon time to details and specifics he included in his convention speech?  Or is it going to be the Paul Ryan who has eagerly embraced voucherizing Medicare and tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires?” Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the Obama campaign, told reporters aboard Air Force One Tuesday.

Thursday night’s showdown in Kentucky could be the final debate of Biden’s political career if he decides against running for president four years from now, but a strong showing could elevate his status among 2016 prospects.

However, Biden’s propensity for gaffes, which Republicans have aggressively pushed in recent weeks, could prove to be a liability for the vice president if he slips up.  Biden told reporters outside a Hy-Vee supermarket in Council Bluffs, Iowa, last week that he’s mindful of getting the facts straight on the debate stage.

“I don’t want to say anything in the debate that’s not completely accurate,” he said.

Biden ran into some trouble with the facts in a 1987 Democratic presidential debate during which he used portions of speech by Neil Kinnock, a leader of the Labor Party in Britain, without giving credit to Kinnock.  Biden had incorporated portions Kinnock’s speech at various campaign appearances before the debate, but he always credited the Briton for his remarks.  The incident, coupled with news of Biden’s plagiarism while in law school, eventually drove the Delaware senator to drop out of the race.

But Biden has also had some memorable debate moments that didn’t involve blunders.  In his 2008 debate against Palin, Biden choked up when he talked about caring for his two young sons as a single father after his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash a month after he was elected to the United States Senate.

After moderator Brian Williams noted Biden’s “gaffe prone” narrative during the first Democratic debate of the 2008 cycle, he asked the normally verbose Biden if he could “reassure voters in this country that you would have the discipline you would need on the world stage.”

“Yes,” Biden responded as the audience laughed.

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