Vice President Joe Biden's Achilles' heel is President Barack Obama's record, says Paul Ryan.
“Look, Joe Biden’s been on this stage many times before,” Ryan told reporters in St. Petersburg yesterday, ahead of Thursday night's vice presidential debate.
“It’s my first time, so sure, it’s a nervous situation, because Joe Biden’s one of the most experienced debaters we have in modern politics,” Ryan said. “But the Achilles heel he has is President Obama’s record.’
Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan made last-minute preparations and were getting a look at the stage where they meet tonight for their first and only debate.
“I am looking forward to it,” Biden told reporters in New Castle, Delaware, before boarding Air Force Two for the flight to Danville, Kentucky.
Ryan spent the day at a Danville-area hotel, reading briefing binders, exercising, and spending time with his family before surveying the debate site.
Both candidates took several days off from campaigning to prepare for a 9 p.m. showdown at Centre College in Danville, which has taken on greater significance after a majority of voters said President Barack Obama lost to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in their first debate on Oct. 3. Romney has surged in national and state polls.
Biden and Ryan face a common challenge in their debate: their own words.
Biden’s task will be to limit his loquaciousness and avoid any quips that might undermine administration positions, his allies say. Ryan’s job will be to defend the two budgets that he wrote as chairman of the House Budget Committee, according to his advocates.
“Joe’s challenge is to avoid saying something before he thinks about it,” said former Senator Gary Hart, who debated Biden in the 1988 Democratic primary. “He has to do a little editing as he goes along.”
For Ryan, the test will be how he defends the “the Medicare issue,” as he presented it in the two budgets he shepherded through the House, said former Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican. “Biden will take cheap shots on the budget and Paul will have to be prepared to come back at him.”
When they sit down at a curved table at tonight’s debate, one of the most obvious contrasts between Biden and Ryan may be their age.
Ryan was not quite three years old when Biden, 69, was first elected to the Senate in November 1972 at age 29. The age gap — 27 years, two months, and nine days — is the biggest between two U.S. vice presidential candidates since Republican Charles W. Fairbanks was Theodore Roosevelt’s running mate in the 1904 race against the Democratic ticket of Alton Parker and Henry G. Davis.
Biden, who spent 26 years in the Senate, plans to focus on Ryan’s budgets as a way to argue that the Republican ticket is out of touch with middle-income voters.
Ryan’s budget for this fiscal year, passed by the U.S. House 228-191 on March 29, called for reductions in Medicare and food stamps, Pell grants, and other programs for the poor. It included $5.3 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, increases in defense spending, and lower tax rates for higher earners.
While both Biden and Ryan have experience scrapping with congressional colleagues, Biden is more familiar with the nationally televised debate format. In the 2007-2008 Democratic primary, he participated in more than a dozen debates, and won many of them, according to former Senator William Cohen.
Biden dropped out of that race after his fourth place finish in the Iowa caucuses, won by Obama.
“He’s a good debater,” said Cohen. “But Joe loves to talk. The Senate can be either a good training ground, or a handicap.”
Twenty five years ago, Biden was seared by another kind of debate experience. In his first run for the presidency, he left the Democratic race in the summer of 1987, after a controversy erupted when he quoted then-British Labor Leader Neil Kinnock without attribution in an Iowa debate.
He’s also been in the spotlight for some of the off-the-cuff remarks he’s made. His resort to an expletive — caught on microphone — to describe the significance of the president’s health-care expansion became a rallying cry for the campaign, which eventually made T-shirts from Biden’s comments.
Biden apologized to Obama in May for his endorsement of same-sex marriage, which forced the president to speed up his timetable for announcing his own support. More recently he told a racially mixed audience that Romney’s policies toward Wall Street would put them back “in chains.”
Obama, who is campaigning in Florida, called Biden from Air Force One to wish him luck, campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
To prepare, Biden holed up in a hotel in Wilmington, Delaware, sparring with Representative Chris van Hollen of Maryland, who played Ryan in mock debates.
“The vice president has been through a lot of these,” said Ted Kaufman, a former Biden aide who filled the remainder of Biden’s Senate term after the 2008 presidential election. “The challenge for this one is figuring out which Congressman Ryan is going to show up.”
“Most of any debate prep is just gathering the data on all the different issues, from the Middle East to healthcare, to budget, to taxes,” said Kaufman, who worked with Biden at his debate camp for six days. “You’re up there without your notes.”
Ryan has been in intense preparations for the debate for weeks, reading briefing binders and holding mock sessions with former Solicitor General Ted Olson taking the role of Biden and former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey playing ABC News’s Martha Raddatz, the debate moderator.
In addition to the rehearsal sessions in Washington, where Ryan and other participants dressed in business suits to emulate the debate atmosphere, the Wisconsin congressman has also studied at his home in Janesville. He retreated last week to the Wintergreen resort in central Virginia to cram for the sessions, and spent the final days before the debate rehearsing and brushing up on his talking points at a hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Ryan has seized on the experience gap to downplay expectations for his performance in the debate, saying it’s his first time on a national stage opposite a much more experienced opponent.
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