Vice-presidential debate 2012: Joe Biden versus Paul Ryan

Join Communities writers Thursday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time to watch and discuss the debate as it happens. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, October 10, 2012 — Vice President Joe Biden and GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan will meet at Centre College in Danville Kentucky for a debate at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time for a debate on foreign and domestic policy.

The stakes on this debate couldn’t be higher for Biden and President Obama, whose utterly disastrous performance against Mitt Romney last week has jolted the polls. Romney put in a solid, convincing performance, and Gallup Polls show that he was judged the winner by an astounding 52 percent margin over Obama. Romney now polls better than Obama on competence in every major area, and the Obama campaign has had a hard time rallying in the week since.

This is a must-win situation for Biden. The avuncular vice president has had a knack for making odd and inappropriate comments, as when in called Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and a clean and nice-looking guy.” But he also has a reputation as a tough and clever politician. He had a solid performance in debates against Obama and others when he ran for his party’s presidential nomination in 2008, and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be as badly prepared as Obama was for his debate last week.

Given his length of public service, Biden is a bit of a wild variable going into this debate. Much will hinge on which Biden shows up - the loose-lipped one who comes across as slightly disconnected from his surroundings, or the tough politician whose left a few political corpses in his wake. The smart bet would be on the latter, but the uncertainty heightens the anticipation going into it.

If Biden is a wild variable, Ryan is a relative unknown. He’s made a name for himself as a man who does his homework and knows his numbers. As Obama’s supporters would be quick to point out, winning a debate isn’t about just knowing the answers, but also about convincing the audience that you understand and care about them and their problems. Ryan’s voice has been relatively muted over the last month, and he has yet to take part in a debate like this. His supporters are convinced that he’ll make mincemeat of Biden, but if he takes Biden as lightly as Obama took Romney, he’s asking for trouble. 

It’s extremely unlikely that either Biden or Ryan will lose as convincingly as Obama did last week. Neither one is taking this debate as casually as Obama took his, neither is so arrogant that he believes he can just walk in and demolish his unworthy opponent. Unlike Obama, who seemed to be cruising to his coronation, they know they’re playing for high stakes. 

A side issue that adds interest to this debate is the revelation that debate moderator Martha Raddatz had as a guest at her 1991 wedding her Harvard classmate Barry Obama. Even more interesting is that ABC tried very hard to kill that story, and has now made the unverified assertion that Raddatz had the entire Harvard Law Review contingent at her wedding (to future Obama FCC appointee Julius Genachowski). While biased moderators are what conservatives expect in these debates, this connection is meatier than the general liberal bias imputed to members of the press. 

If, as has been suggested, Jim Lehrer bent over backward to appear unbiased against Romney, it will be interesting to see whether Raddatz feels obliged to work strenuously to seem as unbiased against Ryan. 

Join Communities writers during the debate for a live chat. All opinions and points of view are welcome. Please join us at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

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Rich Stowell

Rich Stowell



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Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years working in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He returned to Ukraine recently to teach principles of constitutional law and criminal procedure at several Ukrainian law schools for a USAID legal development project. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.

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