Vice Presidential Debate Is a Thriller

Saying Goodbye

Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan shakes hands as debate moderator Martha Raddatz looks on. Photo by Michael Reynolds/Pool-Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Joe was indeed Joe.

The vice presidential faceoff Thursday night delivered what many were expecting — a feisty exchange between the two running mates, some laughs and countless GIFs. Vice President Biden also delivered what President Obama had suggested he was looking for: a 90-minute debate in which he was himself. And that self was an aggressive defender of the Obama administration who worked in jabs of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

As Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan sparred, the vice president seemed to set up his rival as a representative of all Republicans in an unpopular Congress.

Ryan made the case for Romney, telling personal stories about the man at the top of the ticket, deferring to the presidential nominee’s policy plans and fiercely going after what he deemed to be the administration’s failures on both foreign and domestic policy.

The meeting had all the things the Obama-Romney debate lacked, including some attack lines.

It took Biden just 24 minutes to get in a mention of Romney’s comments about the 47 percent, and he went after them multiple times. It’s an attack line President Obama opted against taking last week. Biden also went after Romney’s stance on the auto bailout.

But in a world in which images matter more than ever, Biden also spent a good portion of the evening laughing. That’s what the Republican National Committee focused on in a web video out Friday morning.


Team Obama has its own take on Ryan’s lines of the evening.

Biden’s remark to Ryan, “Now you’re Jack Kennedy,” was the most tweeted phrase of the night, with 58,275 tweets per minute. The runner-up was Ryan saying, “They got caught with their hand in the cookie jar turning Medicare into a piggy bank for Obamacare,” with more than 55,000 tweets per minute. Surprisingly, “malarkey” didn’t make the top 10.

On the PBS debate special following the big show, Mark Shields and David Brooks noted that Biden brought passion while Ryan was more cool.

We also heard from reporters Sam Youngman of Reuters and Jonathan Martin of Politico.

Martin dubbed the performance “the full Biden,” noting that this is the same vice president people on the trail have seen all year. “He’s demonstrative, he’s over the top, some like it, others don’t but it’s real and it’s raw.” With respect to GOP criticism of Biden’s facial expressions and laughing, Martin said, “If you’re talking about mannerisms, you lost.”

Youngman has traveled with Ryan and added, “I don’t know he was able to get his plan into motion because Biden was on offense from the start.”

“Ryan kept his composure, but people who like Biden liked him tonight; people who don’t found him obnoxious. I don’t know that Ryan did damage, but he didn’t draw blood,” Youngman said.

Watch our post-debate analysis, which also included Christina and historian Michael Beschloss, here or below:

For our debate-night live blog, we solicited two takes on the evening, from Republican strategist Rick Davis and Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee. See their thoughts here.

NewsHour politics production assistant Alex Bruns compiled some memorable vice presidential debate moments.


On Thursday night, NewsHour special correspondent Todd Zwillich of PRI’s “The Takeaway” delivered the first in a series of battleground reports we’ll be doing before Nov. 6. He focused on how Medicare and the Ryan budget have had a downticket effect in congressional races across the country, looking specifically at two districts in Florida and one in New York.

Watch Todd’s report here or below:

Production assistant Joshua Barajas pulled together voices from New York as part of our Listen to Me project. Check that out here.


NewsHour reporter-producer Katelyn Polantz reports that while the more formal angle of the campaign will continue to play out in nationally televised debates, both groups continue to push tactics in the field.

Grassroots strategies — and elections, ultimately — are numbers games. Their success gets measured by the number of doors knocked, phone calls made, voters registered and ballots requested. Still, it’s difficult to tell who’s ahead from the data alone, especially because of the parties’ traditional strategic differences.

The Romney and Obama campaigns both sent out memos this week detailing their strategies.

Republicans lead among requested absentee ballots, and the Republican Victory campaign offices have focused on get-out-the-vote interactions.

“Many Americans are signing up and getting involved for the first time this cycle as the choice in this election becomes clearer,” wrote RNC Political Director Rick Wiley on Tuesday. “Starting this past weekend, the RNC began deploying busloads of volunteers to Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Nevada to make phone calls and knock on doors.”

He emphasized the enthusiasm gap between Romney and Mr. Obama, proved by the number of Romney supporters who said they were extremely likely to vote for him. Romney’s self-described fanatics made up 86 percent of his supporters in a recent Politico/GWU poll, compared with 73 percent of Obama voters who said they were “extremely likely” to vote.

Romney’s campaign teams have made more than a million phone calls in each of the battlegrounds. Florida, one of the larger swing states, has seen the campaign contact 8.5 million voters, Wiley wrote.

Meanwhile, Democrats have been trying to lock in votes early and emphasize neighbor-to-neighbor relationships.

Jeremy Bird, Obama for America national field director, summed up the campaign’s keys to success in the field:

Democrats’ party registration leads Republicans’ in nearly every battleground state.

Democrats have out-registered Republicans in every battleground state for the past three months.

Latino registration has greatly exceeded registration among non-Latino whites, and Latinos’ registration preferences have increasingly favored Democrats since 2008.

Most new registrants are younger than 30. In fact, more than four in five new registrants are women, young people and minorities.


Cue sympathetic music, pan a flattering photo and finish with a bald eagle and you’ve got yourself a campaign ad. No, seriously, a PBS NewsHour election tool now gives you the chance to make your very own political ad. Ad Libs mines the data on your Facebook page to help customize and explain the process of political ad making, both for glowing candidate spots and attack ads.

Hari Sreenivasan has an explainer that you can watch here or below.

Try it yourself!

Even Gizmodo was impressed.


Friday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA on mining federal land for oil — or not:

More than half the federally owned land approved for oil exploration and leased to energy firms for that purpose is going unexploited – because the companies holding the rights say it would be economically infeasible.

175 million barrels of oil lie under federally owned land. 70 percent of that land has been approved for exploration and drilling. But 56 percent of it goes untapped. Offshore exploration is even more modest, with 72 percent of the area leased to energy interests not producing oil.


  • In her weekly blog, Gwen writes, “Watching FRONTLINE’s ‘The Choice’ this week, I was reminded how drastically different the 2012 candidates for president are…Career choice. Political world view. So I keep wondering — why is choosing between them so difficult?” Read the post here.
  • A new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll has Romney up seven points over Mr. Obama in Florida, 51 percent to 44 percent. Political editor Adam Smith writes, “That’s a major shift from a month ago when the same poll showed Obama leading 48 percent to 47 percent — and a direct result of what Obama himself called a ‘bad night’ at the first debate.”
  • Interested in the crowded handful of other polls? Real Clear Politics notes eight on Romney and Obama, and more than a two dozen state-specific polls from Thursday alone.
  • NewsHour’s politics coordinating producer Beth Summers was at the debate and went behind the scenes in Danville, Ky., to learn what makes the town unique. She also milked a goat.
  • We’re seeking undecided voters in South Florida. Check out the simple Public Insight Network form here if that’s you.
  • The pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future announced a new television ad in Michigan. The ad, which is called “New Normal,” can be seen here.
  • Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter was on Fox News with Bret Baier just before the debate, and their discussion quickly turned into an undercard bout over tax policy and Libya.
  • An Ohio Democratic headquarters office found a pile of manure in the parking lot. There’s a photo here to prove it.
  • The only Ryan photo portrait session you will ever want to see.
  • Also: #FollowFriday: @PaulRyansBicep.



  • Arizona’s U.S. Senate race between six-term Republican Rep. Jeff Flake and former surgeon general Richard Carmona took an ugly turn Thursday with this ad against the Democrat. In the spot, Carmona’s former boss alleges he has an unethical, erratic and potentially violent personality.
  • California Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman, both Democrats, literally got in each others’ faces at their debate Thursday. Via Roll Call’s Kyle Trygstad: “Sherman then wrapped his arm around Berman’s shoulder, looked him in the eye and — still holding the microphone to his mouth — said: ‘You want to get into this?'”
  • The European Union has won the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to recover from world wars, it was announced Friday.
  • NewsHour reporter-producer Rebecca Jacobson explores the science of superheroes and discovers the incredible strength of spider silk.
  • In Massachusetts, Democrat Elizabeth Warren has sailed to a 50 percent to 44 percent lead over GOP Sen. Scott Brown, according to Public Policy Polling.
  • ProPublica has launched a project tracking political ad spending in 33 battleground television markets around the country. Check out the widget.

Reporter-producer Tiffany Mullon contributed to this report.


All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama will have dinner with the winners of a campaign contest in Washington, D.C., at 6:30 p.m.
  • Mitt Romney kicks off his day with a rally in Richmond, Va. at 12:10. He and Paul Ryan meet in Lancaster, Ohio, for a rally in the city’s town square at 5:40 p.m.
  • Vice President Biden travels with Jill Biden to Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin. The Bidens will hold an event at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse at 2:45 p.m.
  • Ann Romney held an early event in Hudsonville, Mich., and will have another campaign event in Bloomfield Hills at 2:40 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.

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