Both VP candidates do well in debate, but the winner is Centre

DANVILLE — Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, both gave solid, aggressive performances when they met Thursday night at Centre College for their only debate of the campaign.

So who won? Your opinion probably depends on which one you liked better before the 90-minute debate began.

Biden learned a lesson from President Barack Obama’s passive first debate two weeks ago with his challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Biden gave a forceful defense of the Obama administration’s record, while attacking Romney and Ryan’s “bluster and loose talk” on Middle East policy.

Photo by Mark Cornelison

While Obama didn’t bring up Romney’s controversial “47 percent” comment in his debate, Biden jumped on it repeatedly. He accused the Republican ticket of trying to marginalize people such as his parents, average people he grew up in Scranton, Pa., and even troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Ryan shot back, saying Romney’s words didn’t come out quite right — something Biden should know about, a reference to his reputation for verbal gaffes.

Biden avoided such gaffes in this debate, and he repeatedly pushed back against his serious, young opponent’s statements by laughing, shaking his head and constantly interrupting him.

Biden did what he needed to do in this debate: provide a forceful defense of the Obama administration’s record, policies and plans.

But Ryan also did what he needed to do: try to undermine that record and argue that he and Romney offer better solutions to the nation’s problems.

Moderator Martha Raddatz, a foreign policy specialist at ABC News, did an admirable job of trying to keep the debate on track. She tried to pin both candidates down when they evaded answers or hedged comments.

Biden’s strongest moments came when he accused Romney and Ryan of wanting to cut taxes for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. And after Ryan criticized the Obama administration’s stimulus spending, Biden recalled how Ryan put in many requests to get some of that money for his Wisconsin district.

But Ryan made a strong case, too, arguing that Romney’s policies would promote more economic growth. Ryan’s closing statement was better than that of Biden, who grew more mellow and serious in the final minutes of the debate after Raddatz asked them to each discuss their Roman Catholic faith and how it influenced their views on abortion.

Whatever impact this debate has may not last beyond Tuesday, when Obama and Romney have their second debate in Hempstead, N.Y. They will take questions from “undecided” voters in a town-hall format. Their final debate is Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

The longest-lasting win may be for Centre College and Danville, which showed for the second time in a dozen years how to host a vice presidential debate in style.