Vice President Joe Biden's debate performance on Thursday was feisty, energetic and aggressive. Representative Paul Ryan, his opponent, was largely composed, well rehearsed and often on the defensive. Biden gave the performance his party was looking for while Ryan comported himself well.
In a CBS News snap poll of 500 uncommitted voters, 50% of those asked said Biden won the debate, while 31% gave the nod to Ryan. The poll also showed that the perception of each man improved because of their performance.
The debate, which took place at Centre College in Danville, Ky., covered both foreign and domestic issues. ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz moderated it. Unlike the last week's debate, she drove the 90-minute intense exchange with sharp questioning. Biden smiled and shook his head at many of his opponent's answers, while Ryan smirked at several of Biden's answers.
Raddatz began by asking the vice president about the attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed. Republicans have criticized the White House for not immediately admitting it was a terrorist attack. In the debate, Ryan called it a "massive intelligence failure" promising that a Mitt Romney administration would provide marines to protect U.S. outposts. Biden, who said the administration was investigating the attack, pointed out that Republicans in Congress voted to cut embassy security by $300 million.
The candidates sparred over Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. On Iran, Ryan charged, “This administration has no credibility on this issue,” as Biden smiled and shook his head. Then Ryan criticized the president for not meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he was in New York for a United Nations meeting, and instead appearing on ABC's talk show, The View.
“This is a bunch of stuff,” Biden said. “What does that mean, a bunch of stuff?” Raddatz asked. “It’s Irish,” Ryan chimed in. “We Irish call it malarkey.” Then Biden said the president had a one-hour call with Netanyahu just before the UN meeting and criticized Romney and Ryan for not having a plan for Iran.
On Afghanistan the debaters argued over the president's commitment to pull U.S. troops in 2014. Ryan said the White should not have announced the timetable, which already was well known. But Biden was emphatic, "We are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period."
Taxes, Medicare and Social Security were heated debate topics. Biden pinned Ryan on defending tax cuts for top income earners. He repeatedly, speaking directly into the camera, called for a level playing field for the middle class. He also highlighted Romney's remarks, to a closed fundraiser, that 47% of Americans aren't personally responsible. Ryan, turning to Biden, said, “I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.” Biden responded, "But I mean what I say."
Biden called the Ryan proposal on Medicare a voucher plan that would result in future seniors having to pay money for care. And Biden attacked a Republican plan to privatize Social Security, which would leave Americans vulnerable to swings in the stock market.
Near the end of the debate, Raddatz asked the candidates if their Catholic faith "informs" their decision on abortion. Ryan said yes, but said the Romney policy "will be to oppose abortion with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother." It was clear that Ryan would rule out all abortions. Biden said he is personally against abortion, but that, "It's a decision between (women) and their doctor, in my view, and the Supreme Court. I'm not going to interfere with that." He then pointed out that the next president would appoint one or two Supreme Court justices, which could swing the balance on Roe V. Wade.
Representative Paul Ryan has bragged about his ability to catch fish barehanded. However, in the debate he could not catch the vice president, whose lengthy experience with foreign policy and domestic issues worked in his favor. While Biden consistently spoke from his heart, Ryan often seemed to be reciting talking points, especially on foreign policy issues.
Now the stage is set for the next week's presidential debate at Hofstra University. President Obama's supporters know that he must build off of Biden's strong performance, because the alternative could be devastating for his reelection hopes.