Vice President Joe Biden will attempt to curb the Obama campaign’s recent downward spiral tonight, when he takes the stage at Kentucky’s Centre College Thursday night for the sole vice presidential debate of the 2012 election.While VP debates are usually viewed as forgettably amusing sideshows, the stakes are fairly high for tonight’s match-up between Biden and his GOP opponent, Paul Ryan. The showdown comes at a particularly critical and fluid time in the White House race, as recent polls show Republican candidate Mitt Romney making significant gains in the wake of President Barack Obama’s disastrous debate performance last week.
The pressure is particularly high for Biden, who needs a decisive win to placate nervous Democrats and stop — or at least slow — the Romney surge. Meanwhile, the debate offers Ryan a prime opportunity to build on Romney’s post-debate momentum, and give their ticket an edge going into the final three weeks of the campaign.
A recent Pew poll shows Ryan is the favourite going into tonight’s debate, with 40 per cent of those surveyed — including 78 per cent of Republicans and 42 per cent of independent voters — saying they believe the House Budget Chair will do a better job than the vice president. The poll also shows Biden facing a low favorability rating, with 51 per cent of voters saying they had an unfavorable view of the vice president. Ryan’s numbers are only slightly better, with 44 per cent saying they view the Congressman favourably.
By comparison, 53 per cent of voters viewed Biden favourably when he went up against Sarah Palin the the 2008 V.P. debate.
But unlike most V.P. debates, both of this year’s VP candidates are actually political leaders in their own right, and as such, are likely to showcase their own personal political brands, as well as those of their running maters.
This surfeit of political gravitas virtually guarantees that viewers are in for some fireworks.
Here’s some of things you can expect from the showdown:
From Biden: The Vice President really needs to go on offence Thursday. After Obama’s debate collapse, it is now falls on Biden to make the arguments the president failed to make in Denver. That includes hammering Republicans for Romney’s 47% remark, touting the 2009 auto bailout, and highlighting the lack of foreign policy experience on the Romney-Ryan ticket. Expect Biden to also tie Ryan to his House budget plan, and specifically his proposals for entitlement reform, i.e. “trying to change Medicare as we know it.” The Obama campaign has also indicated that women’s issues could come up in tonight’s debate.
Overall, if Biden he can effectively cast Ryan’s policies as bad for the middle class — without being bogged down by minutiae or distracted by gaffes — he has a good chance at scoring some points against his Republican opponent.
For Ryan: The challenge for Ryan is to avoid coming across as a heartless policy wonk with a crush on Ayn Rand. To that end, the winning issues for Ryan will be the debt, the budget, and Obamacare. If he can appeal to voter emotions, rather than rely on numbers, and effectively point out Obama’s legislative failures on those issues, it will go a long way toward making the Romney-Ryan message stick with voters.
Still, if we learned anything from the first presidential debate, it’s that the media’s bias is toward a horse race, so any sweeping assessments of tonight’s effect on the race are probably best taken with a grain of salt. In reality, voters rarely make their choice based on the No. 2 candidate, and vice presidential debates never move polls much.
This chart, from Gallup, illustrates this:
In the end, the real effect will be on where the presidential candidates stand when they meet again for the next debate October 16 at Hofstra University in New York.
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