Two Takes: Showdown in Little Danville

BY News Desk  October 11, 2012 at 11:00 PM EDT

 Signed PostersWe solicited two takes on the vice presidential debate — one from the right and one from the left of the political spectrum. Photo by Jonathan Palmer/The Lexington Herald-Leader

Last week we asked our NewsHour friends Rick Davis and Mo Elleithee to share their perspectives on the first presidential debate. We enjoyed it so much that we asked them back for the sole vice presidential debate of the 2012 election in Danville, Ky. Again they will offer their takes — this time on Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan — from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Davis served as campaign manager for both of Sen. John McCain’s presidential bids, and Elleithee is a Democratic strategist who worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential effort. The pair recently offered their takes on the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan to be Romney’s running mate, and also recently appeared on the NewsHour to discuss campaign spending.

We’ll update this blog occasionally through the end of the debate.


11:00 p.m. ET | Mo Elleithee: This was a great debate. And hats off the moderator. Great questions and great back and forth between the candidates.

There’s no question that Democrats are incredibly happy tonight. The Vice President rocked it. This was not at all a close call.

Centre College student Katie Stevenson shows her patriotism in the festival area outside the vice presidential Debate. Photo by Jonathan Palmer/The Lexington Herald-Leader

But listen carefully to his answers, and you’ll see that Biden wasn’t talking to Democrats. He was talking to the middle class. While Ryan was trying to win an argument with Joe Biden, the Vice President was trying to make a case to the middle class.

And he did.

Now Republicans are jumping up and down, complaining about how animated the Vice President was: “He rolled his eyes too much!” “He laughed too much!” “He shouldn’t have smirked!” “He interrupted too much!” (This coming from the same crowd that said Romney won because the President wasn’t animated enough!)

Here’s my response to them. I DON’T CARE ABOUT THAT.

And neither do most voters.

Here’s what they DO care about. On issue after issue, Biden connected with real people tonight. He was able to look people in the eye, and explain to them the real life consequences of the choice before them. Whether it was the President’s saving of the auto industry, the difference between the candidates on Medicare, or the Romney-Ryan plan to give tax breaks to the wealthy, Biden wasn’t just talking policy — he was talking about people. There was no more important thing he could have done tonight.

Ryan on the other hand missed a huge opportunity tonight. He was often out of his league in trying to argue substance with the Vice President. Every time he threw around a mistruth (which was often), he was instantly held accountable. And when pressed on a number of issues (Syria, Afghanistan, taxes) he was forced to concede that the Romney-Ryan ticket didn’t have a plan. This was not a good night for him.

Fundamentally, there are two basic questions that voters ask when they go into the voting booth: Which candidate better gets me, and which candidate do I trust more.

I think based on tonight, Biden gets the clear win on both.

Now, Mr. President — it’s your turn.


10:35 p.m. ET | Rick Davis: There’s a reason we only ever have one Vice Presidential debate — it’s just not that interesting. The winners tonight are the nameless staffers who wrote all the talking point memos that we have just sat here listening to for the last 90 minutes.

The Biden missile launcher was in full force tonight. It’s hard to find any moments in the debate when Biden said anything positive about the Obama administration. The constant interruptions and attacks he waged against Ryan left me exhausted — I doubt many undecided voters hung around long enough to watch this but if they did they didn’t get a good reason to vote for President Obama. And they learned a lot about what a Romney administration would look like.

Congressman Ryan was exactly what you would expect: focused, competent, knowledgeable and a good advocate for the Romney campaign. That said, I’m looking forward to the next Presidential debate.


10:18 p.m. ET | Mo Elleithee: The Afghanistan exchange was brutal. Ryan endorsed the timetable, but not the end date?

Ryan could not be more unprepared on foreign policy. A lot of bluster and chest-thumping on Libya, Iran, and Syria — but he has not once explained what he and Gov. Romney would do differently.


Rep. Paul Ryan photo by Mark Cornelison/The Lexington Herald-Leader

10:16 p.m. ET | Rick Davis: Wow, according to Biden our policy in Iraq and Afghanistan is: man up, we’re out of here.

How’s that working for you guys in Bagdad these days? How about returning that whole region into a bigger, wider conflict than we have seen in a decade. And hiding behind the Joint Chiefs puts the uniform service in a horrible position of supplication. Oh, and did you hear the President is now blaming the intelligence service for Benghazi — nice way to treat patriots. Where does the buck stop in the Obama administration?

Forget what I said earlier about Biden’s laugh strategy in the first half of the debate. It was much better then the angry old man we saw emerge in the last 30 minutes of the debate — Happy Halloween.


10:06 p.m. ET | Rick Davis: Biden mentions George Bush, Grover Norquist and Sarah Palin — who does the veep think he’s running against? The level of Washington insider jargon used by the Vice President is not going to win votes with the middle class.

The good news about the economy — at least in Wisconsin: Joe Biden has offered to help with his constituents’ needs.

The discussion on Medicare and taxes was exhausting — Martha Radddatz completely lost control of the contestants. What’s worse, the bold blatant statements being made by the Vice President about taxes and the budget or the fact that Rep. Ryan didn’t challenge him on it?


10:00 p.m. ET | Mo Elleithee: Maybe a smart PBS viewer/reader can help me understand something.

Paul Ryan just admitted he and Gov. Romney only have a “framework” for their tax plan — no specifics. He then went on to GUARANTEE that the numbers add up, and argued that six studies have backed that up.

How on earth can he guarantee something without any specifics?

Biden is VERY effectively calling him out on this.

Reacting to RyanVice President Joe Biden, left, with moderator Martha Radddatz, center, and Rep. Paul Ryan. Photo by Mark Cornelison/The Lexington Herald-Leader


9:51 p.m. ET | Mo Elleithee: Populist Joe is here, and rocking it! As I said before the debate, Joe Biden has a unique ability to connect with everyday people. Tonight, he’s on fire.

He is showing passion for the middle class. He scored a direct hit on the Romney-Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it.

He scored a direct hit on the Romney-Ryan plan to cut taxes for the wealthy on the backs of the middle class.

He scored a direct hit on the Ryan hypocrisy on the stimulus.

Ryan is struggling to keep up.

This is not a fair fight. Not. At. All.


9:35 p.m. ET | Mo Elleithee: They just finished discussing the foreign policy section. All I can is… WOW.

Paul Ryan has to be happy that’s over. Ryan looked way out of his depth as the Vice President explained to him how the administration was cracking down on Iran. All he could say was, “we have to convince the Ayatollahs.” Yet not once did he explain HOW Gov. Romney would convince them, or what they would do differently.

Score the first round CLEARLY for the Vice President.


Mitt Romney supporter in Danville, Ky. Photo by Katie Decker/The Lexington Herald-Leader

9:30 p.m. ET | Rick Davis: Libya is the October surprise! Clearly the Obama administration has still not come clean on what happened. I’m not talking about what happened in Libya — I’m talking about what happened in the West Wing at the time of the attack and how and why an attack by a terror group got politicized. Biden’s response was lame — Paul Ryan voted to cut security — really? That’s all you have to say when our diplomats get murdered under your watch?

Ok, I really didn’t want to get into stage craft, but the clownish smiles by the Vice President on the spit screen is bad stage management. Did his handlers tell him to laugh when Ryan speaks — what does that mean? Is it disrespectful or just odd?

The world is united in opposition to Iran? Someone please call the UN Security Council and have Russia and China call the Vice President!


9:35 p.m. ET | Mo Elleithee: They just finished discussing the foreign policy section. All I can is… WOW.

Paul Ryan has to be happy that’s over. Ryan looked way out of his depth as the Vice President explained to him how the administration was cracking down on Iran. All he could say was, “we have to convince the Ayatollahs.” Yet not once did he explain HOW Gov. Romney would convince them, or what they would do differently.

Score the first round CLEARLY for the Vice President.


9:10 p.m. ET | Rick Davis: Could expectations be any higher for Vice President Joe Biden to make up for the disaster of a debate performance by his boss? Biden is a crafty old pol who knows the ropes, but like the President, Joe hasn’t been engaged in a lively political contest in a long time.

At the same time, Republicans are still in rapture from Romney’s “lights out” debate performance so Paul can’t let them down — that’s pressure.

This will be an important debate despite both sides’ efforts to down play it.


8:08 p.m. ET | Mo Elleithee: Of all the national debates this year, this is the one I’ve been most excited to see. These are two aggressive and experienced debaters, and they are both surely going to bring their A games.

Biden supporters in Danville, Ky. Photo by Katie Decker/The Lexington Herald-Leader

Paul Ryan’s big problem is going to be his record. As we saw during his speech at the Republican National Convention, he’s willing to pretend his entire record — and the budget plan that bears his name — doesn’t exist. His convention speech was widely panned as being one of the most untruthful speeches of the entire convention. He and Gov. Romney are trying hard to distance themselves from his plan to shift Medicare costs to seniors, slash education, infrastructure and veterans benefits all to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.

And I expect Joe Biden won’t let him get away with it tonight.

Joe Biden also has one other advantage. He has an everyday guy and that comes through. He’s able to relate to average voters at a gut level in a way that almost no other contemporary leader can (except for maybe Bill Clinton). So I expect him not only to call out Paul Ryan’s distortions, but to paint a crystal clear picture of how the Romney-Ryan agenda will impact folks in their day-to-day lives.

So, I’m off to make some popcorn and get ready — this is going to be fun!