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Joe Biden and Paul Ryan's VP Debate: Call it a Tie

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Republicans said that they felt Paul Ryan won the VP debate because he looked presidential and calm while Biden looked like an obnoxious, smirking lunatic.
Joe Biden Paul Ryan debate
Democrats insist their guy won—Biden was forceful and challenged Ryan on every point and didn’t become a gaffe machine.

Maybe both sides are correct.

Forty-eight percent of voters who watched the vice presidential debate think that Rep. Paul Ryan won the showdown, according to a CNN/ORC International nationwide poll conducted right after Thursday night's faceoff. Forty-four percent say that Vice President Joe Biden was victorious.

Both men did what their respective parties were hoping to accomplish.

After President Obama’s lackluster, passive performance, dismayed Democrats desperately needed an energetic and more confrontational performance.

And a Big Cup of Joe was delivered Thursday night.

Why Biden Won

He energized Democrats who had been down in the dumps since the president’s pitiful performance.  He interrupted Paul Ryan, moderator Martha Raddatz, and even himself with interjections, sighs, and quips. He appealed to the heavens. He looked to the floor.

When he wasn’t engaged in those antics, Biden laughed and smiled to himself as if Ryan had sold him something illegal that he’d just consumed. There’s an old line attributed to Bill Clinton: It’s hard for the other guy to talk when your fist is in his mouth – and Biden was up to his elbow in Ryan’s mouth. That thrilled Democrats. Speaking of himself, Barack Obama said that he was “too polite” in the first debate. No one will accuse Biden of that.

Biden’s performance was aimed at one thing: painting the Romney and Ryan agenda as a flim-flam operation. He did it with style as much as substance—hitting Team Romney hard with the 47% line that the President inexplicitly refused to use in his first debate.  “These people are my mom and dad—the people I grew up with, my neighbors,” said Biden, at the start of an extended riff defending everyday middle-class Americans.

Nice Job, Joe, But……

Joe Biden certainly appealed to Democratic partisans, firing them up by attacking and, even more often, smirking at Paul Ryan’s arguments.

But smirks only work when your audience starts off agreeing with you. That would be the case with strong Democratic partisans, but it’s not at all that clear that it appeals to Independents, or to those who are undecided or moveable.

He was trying to dismiss Ryan’s arguments as ridiculous, in line with Democratic talking points that no rational person could possibly agree with him, but I think that only works with people who are already convinced.

He may have increased Democratic voters’ enthusiasm—down in the dumps after Barack Obama’s performance eight days ago—but he didn’t do much in the way of converting those who are not already converted.

Ryan Holds His Own.

On paper, the match up between the veteran Biden and the newcomer to the national stage should have overwhelmingly favored the Vice-president. In that respect, Ryan exceeded expectations.

Mr. Ryan more than held his own, rebutting Biden accusations.  He had a nice comeback for Biden’s 47% remark-- Ryan responded with his own number, 10 percent, which is the unemployment rate in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which is Biden’s hometown. Nice personal touch.

Ryan also put in a particularly solid performance on Biden’s area of expertise, foreign policy, which is certainly not Ryan’s forte.

The speed at which Mr. Biden was throwing kitchen sinks didn't give Mr. Ryan much time to make the positive case for the Romney ticket, but he managed it—on growth, taxes, and entitlements.

He arguably let Mr. Biden do too much bullying, though the manner in which Mr. Biden did it may not sit well with some crucial, independent voters.

End Result?

Many pundits say that Vice-presidents debates don’t matter. Few people vote for president based on who the other person is on the ticket.

One thing for certain: Biden’s use of Malarkey sparked interest in a little-known Irish word and was one of the most popular words in the Twitterverse on debate night.

So maybe the colorfulness of our vernacular at least benefited from the debate.

Contact Erik Uliasz at euliasz@philly2philly.com

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Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images