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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Maher: ‘Hello 911? There’s an old man beating a child on my tv’

Bill Maher’s tweet in the title above pretty much captures my impression of the veep candidates debate. I would also be comfortable with the headline of Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times article, “Night of Withering Ripostes, Mostly Delivered by Biden.” Although, even Ryan’s big zinger about Biden’s gaffes came off as scripted and labored.
It really did look and sound like the seasoned veteran having his way with the smarty-pants college kid. Ryan appeared a little intimidated, and with good reason. He was up against the Democratic party’s toughest debater.
Half of the ‘undecided voters’ polled by CBS agreed, with 50 percent saying Vice President Biden won and 31 percent giving the edge to Rep. Ryan and 19 percent calling it a draw. CNN’s poll gave Ryan an M.O.E. edge, 48-44 percent. The CNN sample was 381 registered voters, compared to CBS’s 431 ‘undecided voters.’ Which poll strikes you as more relevant? As always, Nate Silver has a solid wrap-up of the data points.
As for issues analysis, it wasn’t much of a contest. Biden had a strong, credible response to every Ryan talking point, with respect to both the economy and foreign policy. It would be a stretch to say the reverse was also true. Biden’s edge in experience served him very well, and Ryan wisely clammed up at several points.
The post-debate spin is predictable enough. I thought the CNN stable of pundits, for example, looked a little embarrassed to be calling it a draw. But what could they do — trash their own poll?
Some commentators griped about Biden grinning and chuckling at Ryan’s prevarications. I was a little worried at first about it, but as the debate wore on, it was clear that it was part of Biden’s more easy-going personality. He could have been having a friendly argument in a bar. My guess is his demeanor played well enough with most informed voters, in contrast to Ryan’s chilly, stiff persona. Despite pro-Republican comments about Biden’s ‘rudeness,’ by the end of the debate, no one could fairly argue that Biden denied Ryan a chance to respond at any point.
As Silver explains, “Vice-presidential debates rarely move head-to-head numbers between the presidential candidates…One should err on the side of caution in assuming that the debate had much influence either way.”
But my bottom-line take-away is that I feel even better about Biden being a heart-beat away from the presidency, as well as more confident about President Obama’s judgement in choosing Biden. I don’t think he could have done better.
As for Ryan, well, he’s brighter than Dan Quayle, and I credit him with being more conversant on foreign affairs than I thought was the case. But Ryan is still a rigid right-wing ideologue. And, despite his comments about the need for more bipartisanship, his track record and personality scream otherwise. It’s hard to envision him providing leadership in bringing the two parties together.
All in all the Biden-Ryan debate was an encouraging — and instructive — win for the Democrats, one which should build interest in the October 16th presidential debate in Hempstead, NY.

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