Now that virtually everyone agrees Mitt Romney destroyed President Barack Obama in the first presidential debate last week, Thursday’s vice presidential debate takes on more meaning.
Republicans hope that a strong showing by Paul Ryan will continue the momentum Romney created with his performance last week. And Democrats hope Joe Biden can turns things back in their favor, reversing the impact of Obama’s desultory showing.
“There’s a lot on the line,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told The Washington Post. “President Obama failed to defend his record and could not articulate a vision for the future. So I think that challenge now falls to Vice President Biden.”
The pre-game odds would seem to favor Republicans. Ryan has established himself as a skilled orator, while Biden has proven prone to gaffes. But it’s impossible to know how things will play out on the ground. Few would have predicted that Romney would best Obama last week let alone beat him like a drum.
Given Obama’s passivity in taking on Romney, you can expect Biden to come out swinging and adopt his “Scranton Joe” persona.
“There’s no sympathetic character up there with him this time,” Steve Schmidt a top advisor to John McCain’s 2008 presidential candidacy told Politico, referring to Biden’s soft treatment of GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in that year’s debate. “So he’ll be bringing his proverbial nun chucks and brass knuckles.”
Where Obama said he and Romney likely agree on Social Security, Biden will probably rip Ryan for supporting the idea of letting workers put part of their Social Security benefits in private accounts. Biden also will probably blast Ryan for backing the idea of Medicare vouchers.
And how should Ryan respond? “He needs to stay on offense,” GOP strategist Tucker Eskew told Politico. “The Biden record of statements and votes is replete with opportunities for Ryan to draw distinctions between Biden’s words and Obama’s actions.”
Biden might actually do Ryan’s work for him. “Joe Biden’s kind of become the Joe Pesci of the presidential ticket,” Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., told The Post.
“You never know what’s going to come out of his mouth. This comment . . . on burying the middle class, I don’t think that’s exactly the shovel-ready job that Barack Obama was thinking of. But the vice president’s right, that’s exactly what’s happened.”
As for the candidates’ preparation, Ryan has former solicitor general Theodore Olson playing Biden. And Biden has Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., as his Ryan.
The vice presidential debate scenario this year has parallels to 2004, when Democrat John Kerry fared well in his first debate against President George W. Bush, and it was left to Vice President Dick Cheney to put a pasting on Democrat John Edwards, which he did.
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