October 10, 2012
U.S. VP debate promises fireworks and maybe gaffes
By Bryn Weese, Senior Washington Correspondent
DANVILLE, Ky. - It'll be no more Mr. Nice Guys Thursday night.
The one and only running-mate's debate here could be an explosive showdown between Vice-President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan.
A presidential candidate's deputy is generally tasked with the role of attack dog, and most previous VP debates have reflected that political dynamic. There was an exception in 2008 when Biden -- who was ribbed as "Gentleman Joe" afterwards -- pulled punches and went easy on Sarah Palin to avoid looking like a bully.
But Republicans are reportedly bracing for a very different Biden to show up Thursday and go after Ryan like a "cannonball," Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said recently.
And the stakes are high for Biden, who must make up ground lost by President Barack Obama's lacklustre debate performance last week in Denver, and halt Mitt Romney's momentum in the national and crucial swing-state polls.
But Biden -- a political veteran who proved himself a strong debater in the 2007 Democrat presidential primaries -- is also gaffe-prone.
He famously told a disabled congressman confined to a wheelchair to "stand up" to be recognized. More recently, he admitted to knowing three presidents "intimately," and warned a mostly black crowd in Virginia that Romney and Ryan, if elected, would put "y'all back in chains."
Only a few weeks ago, in what Republicans joked was a moment of clarity for Biden, he said the middle class had been "buried" for the past four years, and later clarified he meant they had been buried not because of Obama's policies, but because of Republican policies brought in under George W. Bush.
To avoid any disasters, Biden has been holed up in his home state of Delaware since Sunday preparing for debate.
And Ryan, an admitted "policy guy," has been practicing, too.
But in an effort to dampen expectations -- standard practice ahead of presidential debates -- the Romney camp admits Biden is a fiery, passionate and seasoned debater, whereas Ryan is relatively new to the national stage.
Even Romney admitted Tuesday Ryan's only previous debate experience may have been in "high school.
"Obviously the vice-president has done, I don't know, 15 or 20 debates during his lifetime. This is, I think, Paul's first debate. I may be wrong, he may have done something in high school, I don't know," Romney told CNN Tuesday night. "It will be a new experience for Paul, but I'm sure he will do fine."
Whereas the presidential debate last week suffered a lack of fireworks, Thursday's matchup could be full of them.
Remember, too, that Biden is a progressive Democrat who beat Obama to the punch this spring in supporting gay marriage, while Ryan is a social conservative as well as a fiscal one.
Since Thursday's debate runs the gamut and covers domestic and foreign policy, they could spare over abortion and gay rights, too.
Only time will tell who wins, who loses and which Biden -- the strong debater or the gaffe-machine -- turns up.
If #Bidenism explodes as a Twitter hashtag Thursday night, you'll know which.
One thing is certain, given what's at stake for the Obama campaign and reports that Obama himself thought he was "too polite" to Romney last week, Gentleman Joe is definitely staying in Delaware.