The Straits Times
Published on Oct 12, 2012

Round 2: Biden and Ryan take debate stage


DANVILLE, Kentucky (AFP) - Mr Joe Biden enters the sole United States (US) vice-presidential debate with Mr Paul Ryan on Thursday needing to reverse the Republican tide unleashed by his boss Barack Obama’s own poll-sapping performance.

Watch debate live on

Vice-President Biden, 69, will go head-to-head with Mr Ryan, 42, in Kentucky,  eight days after Republican nominee Mitt Romney transformed the White House race with a take-down of Obama in the first of three presidential debates.

Mr Biden, a beaming, back-slapping veteran, has been in Washington since Mr Ryan, a Republican rising star and fitness fanatic who has emerged as the ideological north star of congressional conservatism, was a toddler.

An accomplished debater known for delivering killer put-downs with a dash of Irish-American blarney, Mr Biden is likely to land blows that Mr Obama kept sheathed during his clash in Denver with Mr Romney – a showing that mystified the President’s supporters.

Mr Biden offered a hint of an aggressive strategy as he boarded Air Force Two bound for Kentucky: “You ever see me rope-a-dope?” he said, referring to Muhammad Ali’s famed on-the-ropes tactic designed to exhaust an opponent.

En route to a couple of campaign events in key swing state Florida, Mr Obama called Mr Biden from his plane to wish him luck ahead of the high-stakes encounter, spokesman Jen Psaki said.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina also hinted that Mr Biden would come out swinging in the debate, to be moderated by ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz and beginning at 9pm (9am Singapore time, Friday).

“Joe Biden, as he always does, will speak the truth,” he said, hinting that the Vice-President will zero in on what Democrats see as serial untruths cast by Mr Romney in last week’s debate on issues like taxes and health care.

“There is no hiding when you are president. People need to know where you stand, and what you believe in.”

Ms Diane Black, a Republican lawmaker who has spent long hours with Mr Ryan crunching budget numbers, predicted the vice-presidential nominee would “shine” despite his perceived disadvantage on foreign policy.

“Paul is really a smart man and he is going to be on his game with all of the issues tonight,” Ms Black told CNN.

Mr Obama also went on offense on Thursday, apparently prodded into action by a universally critical response to his clash with Mr Romney in Denver.

“He’s trying to go through an extreme makeover. After running for more than a year in which he called himself severely conservative, Mitt Romney’s trying to convince you that he was severely kidding,” Mr Obama told a 9,200-strong crowd in Florida.

Mr Obama’s passionate attack fleshed out a new theme adopted by his campaign, namely that Mr Romney, after running to the right to win the Republican nomination, is covering up hardcore conservative stands to woo moderates.

Some Democrats, aware of the voluble Mr Biden’s penchant for gaffes, are worried the Vice-President could produce a howler that overshadows the rest of the debate.

Mr Biden however was under similar pressure four years ago and successfully navigated the treacherous gender politics of a debate with then Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Generally, vice-presidential debates, the undercard to a trio of clashes between the presidential nominees, are not seen as pivotal moments in White House campaigns.

But Mr Obama’s debate showing was so limp that Democrats badly need an injection of morale and enthusiasm after a week in which Mr Romney rehabilitated his image and drew level, or moved into the lead, in some polls.

On Thursday, Rasmussen Reports had Mr Obama up a single point in its national
poll of those likely to vote on Nov 6, while Gallup had a similar margin but with Mr Romney on top.

A flurry of state polls revealed the race was essentially a toss-up.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey had Mr Obama up six points in what may be the kingmaker state, Ohio, but two other surveys in the state said the race was within a single point.

Mr Romney had narrow leads in other battlegrounds Colorado and Virginia, while Mr Obama was up in another Virginia poll and led by 1 per cent in Florida, while there were signs of a narrowing race in other key states.

As well as hammering Mr Romney, Mr Biden is expected to challenge Mr Ryan over a budget he authored for House of Representatives Republicans that included cuts to spending on Medicare, the state-financed health scheme for elderly people and other popular social programmes.

But Mr Ryan has a facility for explaining complicated fiscal policy, so supporters are confident he will at least carry the Republican ticket to a draw in the debate.

Neither protagonist will ride into the debate with plump approval numbers, perhaps due to Mr Biden’s role as the Democratic ticket’s attack dog, and Mr Ryan’s identification with unpopular House Republicans.

Mr Biden had a 44 per cent favorable rating in a recent Gallup poll, a point ahead of Ryan.

Yhursday’s clash will serve as a warm-up act for the final two bouts between Mr Obama and Mr Romney, in New York state on Oct 16 and in Florida on Oct 22.