Tonight’s debate is far more consequential than the normal vice presidential debate. After what was perceived by many as a lackluster performance by president Obama, this debate was suddenly more important. This is sure to be a much more interesting debate than last weeks, mostly because of the men on stage. Joe Biden is known to be a bulldog. He will be far less reserved than Obama was because it’s in his nature and because the campaign views this as a needed recovery from last week. Paul Ryan will also not be afraid to say anything.  He, unlike Romney, has a firm ideology and knows the general words to put forth to defend it. He knows what he wants to say and he will know how to put it in a way that’s a little less blunt than saying 47% of Americans are lazy on national TV.

Before the Debate:

What Biden needs to do: Biden needs to swing low and hard. He may be known as a gaffe machine on the trail, but that’s where he is off the cuff. In his debate performances he is very articulate and calculated. He will be prepared and he will have an attack plan to make a memorable sound-byte for the next week to reverse the momentum seen in the polls for Romney. If Biden can expose some of the more extreme or unpopular things Ryan has supported in the past, he will be in a position to lure Ryan into saying something gaffe worthy. Biden will try to make a memorable impression of the administrations job, something like “Osama Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive.”

What Ryan needs to do: I largely see this debate as a potentially very defensive debate for Ryan. I think Biden will be going hard at his budget plan, which has elements that are very unpopular. Ryan’s job will be to deflect that criticism from his budget and keep the focus of the debate on why the Romney ticket is better for America. If he can give a positive message and give stern and specific proposals, he can hold his own. I do not think Ryan is a stupid man. Sarah Palin is a different story. Her ignorance to the most basic issues made her a joke and an easy knock out for Biden in 2008. But Ryan’s danger lies in his ideology. He could easily make a gaffe and not know it because it’s what he actually thinks. His goal is not to make a news worthy headline. The more focus on his budget or abortion proposals, the worse for the overall campaign.

The Debate:

Joe Biden: Wow. That is the bulldog Biden I know. He came out swinging early, commanding the debate on Libya. He was laughing a lot at what he saw as blatant inaccuracies (they were) by Ryan. He had a comeback to everything Ryan had prepared to put him off guard. He went as far to say that what Ryan was saying was a bunch of malarkey, the most polite way of saying bullshit on camera. He made so many effective points that I actually have to transition to bullet points to encompass them.

  • Hard criticism of Romney campaign for politicizing Libya crisis to quickly
  • Pressuring Ryan to admit if he would invade Iran, talking about the extreme effectiveness of sanctions
  • Huge pushback against accusation Obama chose the View over Israeli leader, referring to leader as personal friend
  • Bringing up Romney’s ” let Detroit go bankrupt” statements
  • 47% comments of Romney and 30% comments of Ryan, dismissing Ryan’s defense that they were accidents
  • Explaining Grover Norquist tax pledge (which most Republicans signed) and how it makes budgeting impossible
  • “Stop telling us you care and show us you care with your policies”
  • Exposing hypocrisy in Ryan talking about debt when he voted for massive debt expansion under Bush
  • Shooting down notion of Republican bipartisanship in the obstructionist congress Ryan is in
  • Ryan plan “not mathematically possible”
  • 97% of businesses make less than 250k

One last point I need to enunciate fully because it was so big. Biden brought up physical letters written by Ryan during his time in congress asking for green stimulus money to help create jobs in his district. This, right after Ryan accused the Obama campaign of a failed stimulus. This completely dominating reality steals any credibility from the debate about the stimulus being a waste. That is the single best exchange of the night and it will be the most repeated in debate highlights over the next week.

Biden did everything he could have hoped to do and more. This is the mirror image of the debate that I thought was going to play out between Obama and Romney. Biden talked about all of the damning things the Romney campaign has done to itself in the past year, and had an immediate and sharp defense for everything Ryan had to bring against him. If anything was bad about his performance, it was his laughing so much at Ryan’s statements, which may have come off as condescending. This is the best case scenario the Obama campaign needed. Biden is getting some doggy treats after that.

Paul Ryan: For the fact that Ryan got steamrolled in this debate by Biden, his performance wasn’t bad. He held his own and didn’t make a fool of himself. He was battered by a very aggressive Biden, and he was close to losing composure a few times. For facing what was likely an unexpected barrage, he didn’t fumble hard enough to make the Romney campaign regret his choosing as VP.  But as far as VP candidates go, Ryan brought a lot of baggage to this debate that was chopped apart even by the moderator. His budget math and medicare proposal were questioned hard, and his defense of Romney’s 47% comments were lame. He did the best he could have done given the sketchy campaign management, and maybe that was the best he could have hoped for.

Martha Raddatz: Raddatz was a brilliant moderator. If she looked like she was targeting Ryan a lot, it’s because of the vagueness from the Romney campaign on most issues. She wanted specifics, and he struggled hard to come up with something to put in place of those. She equally posed tough questions for Biden, and was very objective. She wanted to get down to the issues that haven’t been on camera before. She needs to moderate every debate.

As far as the impact on the campaign, it will produce some headlines that help the Obama campaign, or tip polls a little more towards their ticket. A solid Ryan performance would probably have started a solid poll trend in the Republicans favor, but I’m hesitant to say that the Obama campaign will get such a bounce. Their goal was to reverse any polling momentum or messaging out of the first debate, and that was accomplished.

This was the most entertaining debate I’ve ever watched.

Verdict: Clear Biden victory