Joe Biden knows he has his work cut out for him tonight. With 28 years on GOP vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the VP faces a young, rising star that energizes not only those concerned about our rising debt, but the base of the Republican party.
With President Obama’s post-convention surge erased with a resurgent and reinvented Romney, Ryan will have much less of an uphill battle to climb towards victory than his incumbent challenger.
Despite this, both candidates haven’t taken the challenge lightly, spending much of the last week off the campaign trail and persistently training.
Obama on VP debate: ‘Joe just needs to be Joe’
Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson has portrayed the vice president in debate training with Ryan, while Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen played the role of the GOP candidate in several mock debates.
This isn’t Paul Ryan’s first time in Kentucky, but it is his first time debating on the national stage. While Ryan shined orally, if not factually, at the Republican National Convention in August, he has not yet debated this election, including in his close race for re-election in Wisconsin. His opponent, Rob Zerban has even created an petition demanding the VP candidate have a debate of their own.
When pressed on Mr. Ryan’s reluctance to debate, Kevin Seifert, campaign spokesperson, expressed that the representative’s supporters and constituents already know where he stands on the issues.
The debate starts at 9pm and runs for 90 minutes, moderated by ABC’s Martha Raddatz at the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.
“I believe there will be both similarities and the some stark differences in the vice presidential debate as compared to the presidential debate we recently witnessed,” said Todd Graham, debate coach at TBA University.
The most glaring of these differences? Age. Seven years President Obama’s junior, Paul Ryan, is as old as Joe Biden’s career in the Senate, yet as the widely-regarded intellectual leader of the Republican party, the “young and inexperience narrative” will be harder, but not impossible, for the Obama campaign pin on him. Graham says that Ryan will also have to avoid being seen as a bully or too cocky, while Biden will have to avoid any potential gaffes, while appearing energized and knowledgeable about key policy initiatives.
“In general, the age gap works in Ryan’s favor simply because if people are looking for change, they might see it in a younger candidate”, said Graham. “But that’s if there are no other issues arising in the debate and if they both debate equally well.”
Paul Ryan could stand to benefit from his youth, voters looking for a change from the past four years will have a viably stark contrast from Biden. However, the vice president’s experience may provide ammunition for those who believe Ryan might not be ready for the big leagues just yet.
With the President on the defensive after his abysmal performance in the last debate, Joe Biden is expected to be much more aggressive than his boss this time. Graham expects Biden to attack Rep. Ryan on his controversial plan to control the nation’s debt which calls for serious budget and structural reform to entitlements like Medicare. If the vice president can force Paul Ryan to distance his plan from Mitt Romney’s, he will have an opportunity to attack. However, all of this may be moot if the vice president fails to attack the GOP candidate on his own turf, policy details and specifics.
Rep. Ryan won’t have it easy, but he is expected to echo his running mate and continue to hammer the policies of the Obama administration. With a week of momentum following a resounding victory, the Romney-Ryan campaign can also go even further on the offensive, suggests Graham, by reminding voters of Biden’s multiple gaffes to weaken his image.
However, this is more than a competition, it’s a debate about the future of our country. Angela Minor, Director of Martin Luther King, Jr. Forensics Program at Howard University, says voters should be listening for more than just great soundbites,such as crucial points in each candidate’s response, what their plans are and most importantly how they plan to implement their strategic proposals. “Where you have a candidate that is unable to tell you how they’re going to deliver or how they’re going to change the economy or a tax code, the American people have nothing to hold you accountable to,” said Minor.
Minor says both candidates will need to introduce their plan, provide points on how they plan to implement it, and an intellectual rebuttal for their opponent’s eventual response. Candidates have to answer the question at some point, while doing so they must respond intelligently and directly. Minor says any old response isn’t necessarily strong enough to be a rebuttal.
“You have to know your plan and your opponent plans so much so that it breaks down or tears down that of your opponents; that makes effective debate”, said Minor. “That makes heated intellectual change, that makes people say, ‘Oh he really hit him on this or that issue’ intelligently, but with enough time to offer their alternative plan to the American people”
Mr. Graham agrees. He says that not only must candidates know their stuff and that of their opponents, but must remain consistent and accurate. Graham acknowledges that presentation is important, but specific answers are crucial on a national stage discussing serious issues and any inconsistencies among the candidates must be diligently explained.
“You should look for claims with proof, look for warrants behind the claims and ask yourself, “how does he know that?” said Graham.
And if the candidate has historical or empirical examples, or if he has solid reasoning and logic, or if he has independent agencies backing up his claim, Graham says that is probably a solid argument. Without these things, and without a discerning public, he suggests candidates will make up whatever they want and hope you believe them.
“I think the debates are better now that there are real-time fact-checkers, but that doesn’t mean the candidates don’t still tell some whoppers,” he said. “Put their feet to the fire, and hold their arguments up to scrutiny.”