Joe Biden relieves Democrats
Vice President Biden (C) and Republican vice presidential candidate Ryan (R) participate in the debate as moderator Raddatz looks on. US President Obama (inset) and staff watch the debate aboard Air Force One. AFP photosVice President Joe Biden’s assertive debate effort against Mitt Romney’s wing-man Paul Ryan has righted the Democratic ship, but the pressure is still on Barack Obama to come back from his own dismal performance if he wants a second term. The running mates clashed over the Obama administration’s policy in the Middle East, with Ryan citing it as evidence that it is weakening America’s standing in the world.
Obama’s re-election hopes have hung in the balance since Mitt Romney gave him the runaround for 90 minutes on Oct. 3 in the first presidential debate, with the incumbent seeming passive and putting up little resistance. However, Biden on Oct. 11 night knew he had to put in a more robust performance if he was to slow the momentum of the Republican ticket, with Romney having seized the lead in several national opinion polls.
“If the Democrats wanted Biden to be more aggressive, they certainly got that … It’s hard to say if it has changed the momentum of the race in a dramatic way, but I think it was a vigorous enough performance and it certainly did not reinforce the passivity that we saw from Obama last time,” Charles Franklin, politics professor and co-founder of Pollster.com, told Agence France-Presse.
In a CBS News poll of undecided voters, 50 percent felt Biden won, 31 percent felt Ryan did, and 19 percent said the debate was a tie. A CNN survey found viewers evenly divided on who won the showdown, with 48 percent giving the debate to Ryan and 44 percent to Biden. Biden set about Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan with relish, appearing incredulous at many of his statements and punctuating his replies with astonished exclamations like “Amazing!” “Incredible!” and “Malarkey!”
Unlike last week’s presidential debate, much of the encounter centered on foreign policy and Biden called out Romney and Ryan for having no other answers, despite their criticisms on Iran, Syria and Afghanistan in a fierce debate in Kentucky. Top domestic issues including health care, abortion and taxes were also on the agenda. The candidates disagreed on Syria, with Ryan accusing the administration of inaction and saying it was outsourcing foreign policy to the United Nations.
Ryan complained that the Obama administration had wasted time by letting a U.N. envoy seek a deal with President Bashar al-Assad. It would have been better to work through allies in the region, he said, such as Turkey and Qatar, to identify friendly forces within Syria. Biden said the last thing the U.S. needed was another ground war in the Middle East, and that if Ryan and Romney want to send troops to Syria they should just say so. “What more would they do other than put American boots on the ground? The last thing America needs is to get in another ground war in the Middle East,” Biden said.
Ryan also attacked the Obama administration for doing too little to stop Iran from moving ahead with its suspect nuclear program, claiming that Iran now has enriched enough uranium to build five nuclear bombs. “Are you going to go to war? Is that what you want to do now?” the vice president challenged his opponent, 27 years his junior, on Iran. Biden highlighted Obama’s honored promise to end the war in Iraq, his effort to bring troops home from Afghanistan by 2014 and his decision to make the hunt for Osama bin Laden a top priority.
Biden also came under intense pressure from Ryan on the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis sparked by the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, in Benghazi last month. ABC’s moderator Martha Raddatz took a forceful approach to moderating the debate, winning many positive reviews from instant pundits on social media, but some complaints from Republicans. Her performance was a clear contrast to PBS’s Jim Lehrer in last week’s debate between Obama and Romney.
Lehrer let the presidential candidates talk almost freely, while Raddatz sought to be more specific and to keep things under control. Romney and Obama are neck-and-neck in national polls, but the president has slim leads in the majority of the so-called swing states that will decide the Nov. 6 election.