JUDY WOODRUFF: The vice presidential debate left Democrats today saying they're back on track after a strong showing. Republicans argued their man held his own.
Instant polls split on who won last night's confrontation, but both camps claimed victory. Vice President Biden moved on today to Wisconsin, Paul Ryan's home state.
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Anyone who watched that debate, I don't think there's any doubt that Congressman Ryan and I, Gov. Romney and the president, we have a fundamentally different vision for America and quite frankly a fundamentally different value set.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrats had been down after President Obama's performance last week, but the vice president aggressively challenged every point Ryan made, prompting this exchange:
REP. PAUL RYAN R-Wis.: Mr. Vice President, I know...
JOSEPH BIDEN: No, this is...
PAUL RYAN: Mr. Vice President, I know you're under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don't keep interrupting each other.
JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, don't take all the four minutes then.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The president was quick to hail that performance immediately after the debate.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I thought Joe Biden was terrific tonight. I could not be prouder of him. I thought he made a very strong case.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Republican Ryan sounded upbeat about how he'd done at a diner this morning before leaving Lexington, Ky.
PAUL RYAN: I felt great about it.
WOMAN: Were you knocked around by him? Did you feel knocked around by him?
PAUL RYAN: No. No. It's what I expected.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And Mitt Romney praised his running mate in Richmond, Virginia.
MITT ROMNEY (R): There was one person on stage last night who was thoughtful and respectful, steady and poised, the kind of person you want to turn to in -- in a crisis. And that was the next vice president of the United States, Paul Ryan.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: Much of the day's focus was on the vice president's debate statement about the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans last month.
JOSEPH BIDEN: We weren't told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security again.
And by the way, at the time we were told exactly -- we said exactly what the intelligence community told us that they knew.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But at a congressional hearing a day earlier, a State Department official acknowledged that she declined requests for more security in Benghazi.
And at the debate, Ryan charged the administration failed in a critical duty.
PAUL RYAN: Our ambassador in Paris has a Marine detachment guarding him. Shouldn't we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi, a place where we knew that there was an al-Qaida cell with arms?
This is becoming more troubling by the day. They first blamed the YouTube video. Now they're trying to blame the Romney-Ryan ticket for making this an issue.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The vice president, in turn, charged it was Ryan who was stretching the truth.
JOSEPH BIDEN: With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey.
MARTHA RADDATZ, moderator: And why is that so?
JOSEPH BIDEN: Because not a single thing he said is accurate. First of all...
MARTHA RADDATZ: Be specific.
JOSEPH BIDEN: I will be very specific. Number one, the -- this lecture on embassy security -- the congressman here cut embassy security in his budget by $300 million below what we asked for, number one. So much for the embassy security piece.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, Romney and other Republicans pounced on the Biden remarks.
MITT ROMNEY: There were more questions that came out of last night because the vice president directly contradicted the sworn testimony of State Department officials. He's doubling down on denial.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But at the White House, presidential Press Secretary Jay Carney said the vice president was correct in what he said.
JAY CARNEY, White House: He was speaking directly for himself and for the president. He meant the White House. And as is, of course, appropriate, these kinds of issues are handled in the State Department by security professionals. And I think that's the context of that conversation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Beyond Libya, the two debaters crossed swords repeatedly, especially when Ryan was asked for specifics on Romney's call for a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut.
PAUL RYAN: You can -- you can cut tax rates by 20 percent and still preserve these important preferences for middle-class taxpayers...
JOSEPH BIDEN: Not mathematically possible.
PAUL RYAN: It is mathematically possible. It's been done before. It's precisely what we're proposing.
JOSEPH BIDEN: It has never been done before.
PAUL RYAN: It's been done a couple of times, actually.
JOSEPH BIDEN: It has never been done before.
PAUL RYAN: Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates, increased growth. Ronald Reagan...
JOSEPH BIDEN: Oh, now you're Jack Kennedy?
PAUL RYAN: Ronald Reagan...
JUDY WOODRUFF: Abortion also figured as a key issue in the debate. Both men are Catholics, and they were asked to describe their position based on their faith.
PAUL RYAN: I don't see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith.
I believe that life begins at conception.
That's why -- those are the reasons why I'm pro-life. Now, I understand this is a difficult issue, and I respect people who don't agree with me on this, but the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortion, with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.
JOSEPH BIDEN: Life begins at conception. That’s the church's judgment. I accept it in my personal life.
I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the -- the congressman.
I -- I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that -- women they can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I'm not going to interfere with that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Biden warned a conservative Supreme Court majority would overturn a woman's right to choose.
Ryan, who's on record favoring such a move, said abortion policy is best made by elected lawmakers. Many of the same issues, from Libya to taxes to abortion, could well come up again on Tuesday at the second presidential debate.