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DANVILLE, Ky. — Vice President Joe Biden took to the debate stage Thursday night in Danville, Ky., to square off against the man who may one day replace him as second-in-command.
That man was Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
It was clear from the start that Biden’s real mission was to undo President Barack Obama’s lackluster debate performance last week against Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee.
The vice president was also seeking to repair Obama’s image, which — in taking a beating — has moved poll numbers in the direction of the GOP ticket.
On issue after issue, Biden attempted to defend the Obama administration and painted the Romney/Ryan ticket as out of step with the needs and concerns of average Americans.
“A bunch of malarkey,” responded the vice president when Ryan warned that cutting defense spending would make the country weak.
Turning to the economy — and referring to the Romney/Ryan presidential ticket — Biden stated, “I’ve never met two guys who are more down on America across the board.”
Ryan erred on the side of caution and avoided mistakes. Displaying a mastery of fiscal policy gained as chairman of the House Budget Committee, he assured swing voters that the policies of a Romney presidency would not decimate social programs.
While Biden has a well-earned reputation for making gaffes, his worst moments came when he was not actually speaking but remained under the unblinking gaze of the camera.
As Ryan spoke, the split television screen picked up the vice president’s smirks, smiles, grins, scorn and general dismissiveness for the views of an opponent he repeatedly called “my friend.”
At one point, it clearly appeared that Biden was giving Ryan his middle finger.
In failing to suppress his feelings, the vice president came across as an immature, rude, insensitive and quirky person — an individual too unstable to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
While Biden’s frequent interruptions probably helped revive the Democratic Party faithful, they may have been too much for the less partisan viewer.
“Mr. Vice President, I know you’re under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don’t keep interrupting each other,” stated Ryan.
Biden raised the Republican presidential nominee’s controversial comment, in which Romney casually mentioned that 47 percent of Americans do not pay income taxes and are government-dependent freeloaders who consider themselves victims.
Mr. Vice President, I know you're under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don't keep interrupting each other.
“These people are my mom and dad, the people I grew up with, my neighbors,” said Biden. “They pay more effective tax than Governor Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who, in fact, are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now.”
Ryan defended Romney, drawing laughs from the audience when he responded, “The vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.”
Biden retorted: “But I always say what I mean. And so does Romney.”
One of Ryan’s missions was to provide Americans with a softer side of Romney, a son of privilege whom many have viewed as being out of touch with the average voter.
Ryan told a story of how the GOP presidential nominee had come to the aid of a family whose children were hurt in an automobile accident. He also praised Romney for giving 30 percent of his income to charity.
“Stop talking about how you care about people,” Biden retorted. “Show me something. Show me a policy.”
Biden came to the debate with far more experience than Congressman Ryan. He was elected to the U.S. Senate when Ryan was only 2 years old, has twice run for president and was matched up against then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in a vice presidential debate four years ago.
Instant polls following the debate suggested that viewers considered the matchup a draw. This does not bode well upon Biden, a U.S. Senator for 36 years and an experienced debater.
As history has proven, vice presidential debates rarely change the course of a campaign. Any impact this debate may have will certainly be superseded when Obama and Romney meet for their second debate next Tuesday at Hofstra University. Audience members will get to ask most of the questions in this town hall-style debate.
A third and final debate between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney will be held Oct. 22nd at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Bill Lewis is the principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates and host of "The Credit Report with Bill Lewis" — a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends and issues on AM 740 WSBR in south Florida.