Live Blogging the Vice Presidential Debate

O.K. we are on live.  Please join in. Alas, I have not updated my wordpress blog as planned (I’m still trying to find out where my add plug tab is located!)  So you are going to have to update the comments section to see yours.

As always, we are watching CNN, and they have the usual suspects on. Already they are speculating on how this debate may change the numbers.

Wolf setting the table by contrasting their ages, almost like this is a prize fight between the young whippersnapper and the grizzled veteran.

Ryan, “Can I call you Joe?”  Please let it be that….

Applause sounds like gunfire…..

Martha starts with Benghazi-gate – this has been trending in the news recently.  (By the way, CNN has their gender-colored focus group lines running.)  Joe – smartly – pivots to the broader war on terror – killing Bin Laden, and winding down the Iraqi war. Ryan will pivot back to Benghazi for sure.

And he does – this is a good issue for the Republicans, and Ryan is going to milk this. Ryan is looking at Martha. Nice opening segment here by Ryan on clarifying the Romney foreign policy differences – nuanced, but clear.

Joe is not going to take this sitting down.  “The Congressman here….”.   So much for cordiality….Ryan is smirking.  Biden:  “These guys bet against America all the time.”

Raddatz is showing her foreign policy street cred here – not letting go of the Benghazi story.  Biden’s response – that we didn’t know – isn’t exactly uplifting.  Raddatz tries a different tack on Ryan – trying to get him to choose between apologizing or defending the soldiers in the Koran burning – and he goes back to Benghazi.  Enough already says Martha!

Topic 2 – Iran.  Can we allow Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb?  Biden is openly laughing at Ryan’s response  – I don’t think he likes the young guy.  Joe now looks into the camera, as if to say, can you believe this sh*t?

CNN showing a bit of a gender gap during Ryan’s answer on how to deal with Iran and nuclear weapons – surprisingly, women responding more favorably.. not sure why. Biden says we have a secret plan, but what’s the bluster about?  Iran is not close to acquiring the weapon, so let’s not overreact.  Ryan – administration has underreacted! Weakness invites aggression.  Women like this response, men do not.  I’m not getting this gender contrast at all.  Maybe it’s nothing.

Joe is on a first-name basis with Bibi.  “What does that mean, a bunch of stuff?”  Ryan: “It’s Irish.”  Joe is raising his voice here to drive home the point that the world is united against Iran.  Joe laughs out loud when Ryan says, in effect, the administration is soft on Iran.  Joe has to be careful here about seeming to scold Martha, and not just Ryan.

Joe is on the verge of appearing a bit to patronizing to Young Ryan here.   He gets in a shot at Romney changing his mind.

PART II – The economy.

Raddatz mentions the latest unemployment numbers, but points out it’s not near where Obama projected it to be.  Joe uses this to remind voters of how bad the economy was when Obama came in, and by the way, Romney opposed the bank bailout.  And he’s off – Joe is at his best when he starts talking about his family, and he gets in the 47% comment not once, but twice. You Go Joe!  He’s scoring here, but Ryan has a response.  You can see it in his smirk.  This should be good.  And Ryan has his own regular guy story.  And he’s ready for this topic too…Both guys are scoring well here….focus group loving both – Northborough Massachusetts, my home town, just got a shout out from Ryan….

I’ve been waiting for the charity number to come in……Ryan ready to pounce on the 47% and he gets a laugh by poking fun at Joe’s “bidenisms”, but Joe has a nice response ready in turn.  These guys aren’t holding back….

I think Joe may have missed the point here – the personal story needs to be about the President, not him.

Joe has used the phrase “take responsibility” several times tonight. Must have focused well.

The focus group does not like it when Joe goes overboard on the sarcastic laugh – thin line between righteous populist anger and mocking sarcasm…

Ryan’s scoring a bit here with the overseas “green jobs”.  Both sides getting testy here.


Potential vulnerability here for Ryan. Expect him to trot out his Mom, remind voters that 55 and older won’t be affected by Romney Medicare reform.  But Biden should score here as well.  Biden should be able to match Ryan here on the Mediscare numbers game.  Ryan’s defense is well-rehearsed – he’s said this a thousand times.  (Ohh – crowd does not like Joe’s Sarah Palin zinger about death panels.)

Joe goes after the Ryan “voucher” plan – this was inevitable, and Ryan will be ready for it.  And privatizing Social Security too. Joe evens looks into the camera to make sure we get his point.  Ryan would prefer to talk about the link between Obamacare and Medicare cuts, but Martha – good for her – wants Ryan to defend the Wyden plan.  Biden is going to get punched if he doesn’t stop interrupting….

Can we vote for Martha?  She’s the most sensible one in the room. Why not follow Ryan suggestion to raise age limit?  Joe completely ignores the suggestion (after saying he agreed to do this for social security).  He’d rather talk vouchers.

(Just took a glance at the Twitter feed.  It’s Bizarro world – same event, two alternative universes when it comes to describing it.)

They are deadlocked and Joe is angry.

TAXES – Who will pay more, and who less, if your guy is elected?  Here comes the middle-class fight – both sides will accuse the other of taxing them. This promises to be supremely tiresome.

I’ve said it before – but why doesn’t anyone defend “big” business?  They employ more people. It always small business.

Ryan employs the Biden trick – looking into the camera to warn “Watch out middle class – they are coming for you!”

Martha wants specific on what tax loopholes will be closed.  Ryan wraps himself in Reagan’s 1986 tax reform plan – start with principles, negotiate details later.  Will people buy this?  It is actually the way to negotiate, but in a campaign it seems like dodging particulars.  (Biden is wrong about Reagan’s particulars during the ’86 tax reform.)  If Ryan doesn’t fill in the particulars, Joe will.  This exchange is predictable and will go nowhere.

Martha needs to step in…..

Joe will have to shut up.  Somewhere he decided that he wasn’t going to let Ryan get a word in.   This is not helping the audience differentiate the two plans.

Martha making some of Ryan’s argument for him against Biden’s argument that JCS supports defense cuts.  It has come to this.

Afghanistan.  Ryan’s response – as soon as he opened his mouth – got a positive response.  I think because Joe is actually silent for the first time in what seems like an eternity.  I have to think Joe’s over-the-top performance tonight is a conscious effort to compensate for the President’s comparatively more sedate performance.  And it is the role of the VP to play attack dog.  But is this too much?  Remember, who wins the debate is not only a function of how the audience reacts – it is also a function of how the media judges the debate.  I’m trying to think of the takeaway points here.

Both sides are being rewarded here for appearing to discuss this issue in a more tranquil fashion, but also because they largely agree on the basic plan to leave Afghanistan.  Not clear to me that Ryan trying to say both that we will leave on schedule, but that we won’t fix the date, really works.

Martha knows her foreign policy chops, and it enables her to push these guys on their responses.  She pushes Joe on the Taliban resurgence…..and also on the timing on some of the troop withdrawals.  Raddatz is not buying Joe’s argument that the military wanted out at that time, in that fashion.

Biden is not going to win by arguing that the Afghan troops are trained – trained in what?  Shooting Americans?  Not a strong point for Joe here.

Syria – I was waiting for this.  Ryan should score.  Bigger issue here, of course, is that Joe has an administration record to defend. Ryan can simply claim Romney would do differently, and better.  Important to remember that foreign policy is not going to be a huge issue in this election – debate over Syria plays well on Fareed Zakaria’s show, but Joe and Jane Sixpack aren’t invested in this issue.  And Joe is talking down to his “friend” again.  Ryan still thinks he came to an old-fashioned debate – Joe realized from the start that this is a political show.

Final Topic – abortion and religion.  Again, abortion is not (despite the controversy it elicits) a very important electoral issue.  But both sides can use it reach out to middle-class Catholics – a key demographic.  This isn’t really about abortion – it’s about Reagan Democrats.

Wait: one more question re: tone of campaign – ironic, given what transpired tonight.  Joe uses it to get in one last 47% reminder, and to chastise those unnamed groups making scurrilous charges…I don’t think he really grasps the irony here…

(Joe is losing his voice here.)  Ryan does the same – and the irony is lost on him as well, evidently.  He uses the question about tone of the campaign to launch one final verbal attack.  In both their defenses, that’s what vice presidents do.  Both sides paint a picture of Armageddon if the other side has their way.

Martha – One more “final” question – the character question, but weirdly asked.  Why ask them what they will bring that “no one else could”?  I thought Ryan had the right response here.

Ryan really is a policy wonk – it makes it hard for him to close on a soaring high note.  More wonkiness.


Joe: “You might have detected my frustration.”  You think?  I think the Ryan shot at Scranton cut deep.

Ryan remembers rule number one at a VP debate: it’s not about you, it’s about the guy at the head of the table.  And always close by asking for your vote.

It’s not over folks – it’s time for the spin room. Let’s see what talking points each side brings out.

My initial take:  No clear winner.  Both sides brought their strengths – Joe with the populist passion, Ryan with the wonky recitation of facts (true and alleged).   I  don’t think this will move the needle much.  But it was very entertaining, but also substantive.  Joe performed well, which I expected.  I wasn’t sure how Ryan would do, but he held his own.

CNN talking heads chiding for Biden for interrupting – loses style points for being patronizing.

The exchange that will be replayed is the Ryan zinger about Joe knowing about saying things they regret, and Joe coming right back by asserting that he says what he means.

Interesting that talking heads can’t agree who won – more evidence that no one did.  Looks like both sides are pleased enough to come right into the spin room. Let’s listen to the talking points.

Cutter: “A Decisive Win for the Obama-Biden team.”  Facts matter.  Joe’s an authentic guy.  Speaks his mind.

Here’s the RNC chair Priebus.  His first talking point is how Joe interrupted Ryan – isn’t this exactly what the Democrats said about Romney’s demeanor last time?

Lots of praise for Martha – I thought she started out well, particularly pushing them on going into more detail on foreign policy issues. But she needed to intervene a bit more later on to stop the cross-talking.

CNN focus group of  undecideds see this as a draw.  So that means it was a draw, right? How are the other station’s playing this?  Vijay says the PBS pundits called it for Biden.   In the twitter verse, the usual suspects are lining up behind their guy, but a few of the “nonpartisan” talking heads are on both sides – which I see as further evidence that this was truly a draw.   The other point to remember:  it’s not who wins the debate – it’s who wins the national polls.

Ok, twits citing two polls – one from CBS showing Biden won – one from CNBC saying Ryan did, and by equal margins.  I can’t vouch for the polls internals, but on the surface more evidence that this is a draw, or at least so close that it won’t have much impact.  Score one for political science!

Tweeters saying the CNBC poll is not a random sample but instead is an online poll.  But keep in mind that all these polls only sample viewers – they are not a random sample of registered (or likely voters).  so, if audience is skewed one way, sample will likely reflect that skew.

Ok, CNN “scientific poll” is released, and it shows a draw.  48% say Ryan won, 44% say Biden did.  I guess it’s settled. No one won decisively.

Bottom line: this is one of those half full/half empty assessments.  Half full for Democrats: Biden showed passion, stopped the bleeding.  Half empty: he didn’t win, and he didn’t beat the younger, less experienced Ryan.  For Ryan, the half full is that he kept the Democrats on the defensive, prevented them from regaining the upper hand. Status quo is a win for the Republicans.  Half -empty – Didn’t keep Romney momentum going, and that means media narrative will suggest that race is tied – not that Romney is pulling ahead.

Great participation tonight!  Next debate is the second presidential match on Monday.  If Anna gets her act together, I’ll have our new live blogging format up and running.

I’ll be on tomorrow with the postmortem.  Meanwhile, I’m getting quoted over at Andrew Sullivan’s site for a portion of my debate analysis.  Let me reiterate that their choice to quote me should not be seen as an endorsement of my political views.

Big winner tonight? CNN – they show video feed of Obama watching the debate – on CNN!

Meanwhile, CNN shows best moment tonight for each candidate based on focus group responses.  Ryan peaks when he discusses not raising taxes on small businesses.  For Biden, it was also on taxes.  As for low points, Biden’s came when he defended the administration’s failure to protect the Benghazi embassy.  For Ryan, it was his abortion response near the end of the debate.

Nothing in the polling response, nor in the taking points from both sides, changes my view of what I saw tonight: this was largely a draw that will not do much to impact the polls.

More tomorrow….thanks again all to who participated.



  1. I really think Biden changed the feeling of undecided voters on the bar during this debate. This final speech isn’t playing well for Ryan.

  2. Weak closing by Joe; he almost faded out at the end.

    Paul is still strong and on point. And so well informed.

    Big point here NO BUDGETS NO PLAN.
    Got a speech instead. No leadership.

    How’s whining for more time…

  3. Its clear that when you run for president you have more time to prep then when you are in office. I can’t tell if Ryan is skilled or just has nothing else to do in Wisconsin but prep.

  4. Last closing; Biden’s lost his voice.

    Ryan is hitting record; it’s not working. Need real reforms, real solutions. Job creation is best issue to close with.

    My call:

    Either a draw or slight edge to Ryan.

  5. Agree on the final point here, Matt; it seemed like a draw…but lots more fireworks in this one, for sure!

  6. I wonder how this will poll. I don’t think this will change much there. I don’t think many people change their mind. The one thing this did was allow Ryan a national spotlight and honestly he looked fine – robotic, but fine. He was an unknown I think until tonight – he looked electable.

  7. He’s a local Massachusetts guy, you know. We share a common sports rooting history.

  8. Krauthammer says:

    On paper, a draw. On radio, Biden but on TV, Ryan won.

    Joe’s smirking and derision played poorly.

    Dr. K says didn’t move the needle.

    I agree.

  9. Two Items
    1) Title of your post – isn’t this a Vice-Presidential debate?
    2) On Prep time – When your day job is dealing with these issues aren’t you supposed to be constantly prepping?

  10. Oops – Good catch! I’ll fix that.

    As for my “day” job – at this point, I’m barely one step ahead of my students!

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