4 Key Takeaways From The Vice Presidential Debate

What we learned from the debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan

October 11, 2012, 8:28 PM

Oct. 11, 2012— -- The first and only vice presidential debate Thursday night was a heated affair with Democrat Joe Biden going after Republican Paul Ryan and his running mate Mitt Romney on a litany of issues from the economy to foreign policy.

Biden came out swinging -- Republicans would say overaggressively -- after President Barack Obama's poor performance against Romney last week in Denver, hoping to reenergize Democrats who have worried the president is losing crucial ground just 24 days from Election Day.

Although Biden, 69, took the fight to Ryan, the 42-year-old running mate stood toe-to-toe with him, making it difficult to find a clear winner. Still, the affair at Danville, Kentucky's Centre College was unquestionably livelier than last week's debate.

Here are a few key moments:

1. The 47 Percent Came Up

One of the central complaints from Democrats about Obama's debate performance last week was that he failed to make several of the fundamental arguments for his domestic policies and against Mitt Romney's. Most symbolic of that was his failure to raise Romney's damaging "47 percent" against him over the course of the 90-minute debate.

Biden went to the remarks just 24 minutes in, following a spirited discussion over the consulate attack in Libya, and kept going back to it. That proved to be an effective device through which the vice president was able to explain and defend Obama's economic policies and indict Romney as a candidate who doesn't get it.

"It shouldn't be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives," Biden said of Romney's economic plan, explaining that those people, often "pay more effective tax than Gov. Romney pays in his federal income tax" and that many are seniors and veterans who don't owe income tax.

Biden was feeling so confident during the riff that he pledged that the Obama administration could get unemployment down to six percent.

The vice president's goal tonight was to fire up glum Democrats who have fretted since Obama's Denver flop. It's easy to say he succeeded on that front.

2. Biden Went Turbo Biden

In 2008, Biden featured a generally calm demeanor when facing off against then-GOP running mate Sarah Palin. That wasn't the case this year.

For long stretches, Biden displayed many of the traits that have made him ripe fodder for The Onion.

He often laughed, huffed, smiled, grinned, interrupted, and relied on his trademark "Bidenspeak."

For example, after a tough exchange over Syria and Liby with Ryan, Biden came back and called the Republicans' comments "malarkey." He evenflubbed in saying that the admnistration did not know the Libyan consultate wanted more U.S. security.

Later on when Ryan went after the Obama administration's credibility in dealing with Israel in the context of the Iranian nuclear threat, Biden retorted, "this is a bunch of stuff."

When Ryan defended Romney's tax plan, Biden came back incredulous when he cited the nation's 35th president, "Oh, now you're Jack Kennedy."

If one picture could sum up Biden's demeanor tonight, it might be this.

While Biden came to the debate with a caffeinated attitude that may have delighted his fans, Ryan displayed a more calm demeanor that may have gone over better with the home audience. That's not to say he didn't defend himself. Here's an example of Ryan's attack line on Libya:

"This Benghazi issue would be a tragedy in and of itself, but unfortunately it's indicative of a broader problem," he said. "And that is what we are watching on our TV screens is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy, which is making … us less safe."

3. Each Candidate Scored at Least Once

Biden cut off Ryan's critique of the Obama stimulus by citing the fact that the Republican Congressman requested funds for his district. Ryan admitted it when pressed by moderator Martha Raddatz.

Ryan counterpunched Biden's 47 percent attacks and made light of the vice president's gaffe-prone nature all at once.

"He cares about 100 percent of Americans in this country," Ryan said of Biden. "And with respect to that quote, I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way."

4. Martha Raddatz Took Control

PBS's Jim Lehrer was panned for being too passive during the Denver debate, but ABC's Martha Raddatz was active in asking tough questions and holding both candidates accountable.

She posed solid follow-up questions, such as when she asked Biden what military reason the Obama administration had for pulling out surge troops from Afghanistan. Or when she pressed Ryan for details on what specific tax loopholes a Romney administration would eliminate.

Overall, both sides could make a compelling case for why their candidate was effective. History tells us that vice presidential debates rarely effect the outcome of an election. But Thursday's debate was the kind of affair that you should watch if you missed it tonight.

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