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Opinion

Paul Ryan and Joe Biden vice presidential debate was good TV and good politics (+video)

It was no blowout, but that's not to say there weren't plenty of blowout moments. The vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan had substance, feistiness, and a real contest of ideas. It likely reminded viewers how bad the Romney, Obama presidential debate was.

By Costas Panagopoulos / October 12, 2012

Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin gesture after the vice presidential debate at Centre College Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky. Op-ed contributor Costas Panagopoulos says: 'The vice presidential debate certainly did not set the reset button on the race, but, at the very least, Biden set Obama up effectively for round two, and now it is up to the president to capitalize on that.'

Michael Reynolds/AP

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Presidential debates generally fail to shift voter preferences by very much, and vice presidential debates may matter even less. But sometimes, when debates are perceived to be blowouts – as the first presidential debate this cycle appears to have been – the effects can be more potent. The uptick in support for Mitt Romney in recent polls since his strong debate performance against President Obama attests to this.

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But last night’s vice presidential debate between Rep. Paul Ryan and Vice Joe President Biden was no blowout.

That is not to say there was any shortage of blowout moments. Mr. Biden came ready to fight. He swung early and often, determined not to treat his opponent with kid gloves as many analysts feel the president did in his debate with Mr. Romney. But Mr. Ryan held his own, countering his way to a solid overall performance that went toe-to-toe with Biden.

Last night’s debate was, well, exactly that – a real debate. There was substance – lots of it – and feistiness, and a real contest of ideas. It was everything the first presidential debate was not, perhaps reminding many viewers that this is more of what they should have seen during the Obama/Romney duel. In fact, the vice presidential debate was so good that it may have reminded viewers about how bad the presidential debate was.

Biden appeared to be very aware of his boss’s near-collapse in the presidential face-off; Democrats were on defense, but the vice president did not let them down. Biden was an effective attacker who was willing to take the Republican ticket to task for controversial policies and campaign statements (like Romney’s 47 percent remarks).

He came across as competent, informed, and knowledgeable, someone who would be ready to step in as chief executive if the moment came. He connected effectively with average Americans, especially the middle class voters he claims to have championed throughout his political career.

He was aggressive – very much so – perhaps in a way he could not be against Sarah Palin in 2008. But he also came across as condescending and dismissive at times. Some perceived his exasperated smiles as sneering. And his frequent interruptions and eye-rolls recalled Obama’s dismissive body language in the first presidential debate.

But at least it was clear that Biden wanted to be there. He was willing to fight to hold on to his job. He was bold, and he defended the policies and achievements of the Obama administration even more forcefully than the president did last week. In that sense, Biden may have actually overshadowed Obama, as many believe he has frequently done over the past four years. Still, many Americans appreciate a fighter, and they may be wondering when – or if – that spirit will emerge from Obama again. After all, this is a presidential race, not a vice presidential contest.

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