This will perhaps end up as the most watched vice-presidential debate in US history, but it is likely to have little impact on the final result on November 6th.
People simply don’t vote for the bottom on the ticket.
There will be arguments about who won the debate which I suspect will divide along ideological lines. The Republicans will insist Ryan was calm and in control, reasoned and respectable and challenged the record of the Obama White House over the last four years.
They will point to Biden’s dismissive shakes and smiles, his persistent, dismissive laugh and his repeated interruptions as the sign of a man under pressure and out of ideas. They will talk of Biden’s smirk.
The Democrats will hail the vice president as commanding on the intricacies of policy from Iran and Afghanistan, polished on the details of domestic issues such as Medicare and dealing with the deficit and using his experience to full effect.
This was the debate performance that he perhaps wanted and hoped to deliver four years ago, but was restrained because he was up against the untried and untested Sarah Palin. A full on Biden could perhaps be seen as overbearing and overpowering, and that could have seriously impacted on the women’s vote.
In Kentucky, it was up to Biden to fire up the Democratic Party base, to give them something to cheer about and to go some way to erasing the memory of Barack Obama’s dreadful Denver night. He responded to every Ryan claim and assertion, letting nothing go unchallenged.
His best two moments were undoubtedly after a Ryan answer on the possibility of what to do with a nuclear Iran, he dismissed it with a smile and a shake of the head as ‘malarkey’- an old Irish word meaning nonsense. And when Ryan criticized the Obama economic stimulus package, he pointed out Ryan had asked for money from the fund for his own congressional district.
Biden at times pushed and probed, but at times seemed harsh and overbearing. It was as if he was trying to overcompensate for Obama’s lackluster performance. And while Democrats will have loved that, it might not play too well with people watching at home unaccustomed to such behaviour in their living room.
Ryan arrived with the task of building on the momentum created by his boss, assuring independent and wavering Obama supporters that the Republican ticket could be trusted on the economy, but he was weak on specifics and lacking in detail on the issue that most concerns Americans. He never struggled, never failed to produce an answer. He did what is expected of vice presidential candidates in the debates and that was do no harm. He probably won no new votes, but didn’t lose any either.
On balance, this was probably a win for the Democrats, and a personal victory for Joe Biden who, if as reported is still eying a run for the presidency in 2016, did his prospects no harm.
But voters will decide who to support on November the 6 on who they want as president. And so the next debate in New York on Tuesday becomes even more important. Mitt Romney will have to show his victory in the first debate was not a fluke, that he is confident and capable of doing it all again. For Barack Obama, he always knew he had to deliver. Now he also has to be better than his vice president.