October 11, 2012

Campaign momentum at stake in vice presidential debate

By LESLEY CLARK McClatchy Newspapers

DANVILLE, Ky. - Vice President Joe Biden will take the stage Thursday to debate Rep. Paul Ryan in a matchup that Democrats hope will restore some of the momentum they've lost since President Barack Obama's widely panned performance in last week's debate.

click image to enlarge

A banner made by middle school students for Thurday's debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky., depicts Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, left, and Vice President Joe Biden.

AP

PRESIDENT CONCEDES 
HE 'HAD A BAD NIGHT'

President Obama conceded Wednesday he did poorly in a debate last week that fueled a comeback by his rival in the race for the White House. Mitt Romney barnstormed battleground Ohio and pledged "I'm not going to raise taxes on anyone."

A perennial campaign issue flared unexpectedly as Romney reaffirmed he is running as a "pro-life candidate and I'll be a pro-life president." He spoke one day after saying in an interview he was not aware of any abortion-related legislation that would become part of his agenda if he wins the White House.

Whatever the impact of Thursday's vice presidential encounter, last week's presidential debate boosted Romney in the polls nationally and in Ohio and other battleground states, to the point that Obama was still struggling to explain a performance even his aides and supporters say was subpar.

"Gov. Romney had a good night. I had a bad night. It's not the first time I've had a bad night," Obama said in an ABC interview. Asked if it was possible he had handed the election to Romney, the president replied: "No."

"What's important is the fundamentals of what this race is about haven't changed," he said. "You know, Gov. Romney went to a lot of trouble to try to hide what his positions are," he said, referring to abortion as an example.

Despite the presidential display of confidence, public opinion polls suggested the impact of last week's debate was to wipe out most, if not all, of the gains Obama made following both parties' national conventions and the emergence in late summer of a videotape in which Romney spoke dismissively of 47 percent of Americans whom he said pay no income taxes. They feel as if they are victims, he said, adding they don't take personal responsibilities for their lives.

Eager to capitalize on his newfound momentum, Romney told more than 7,000 packed into a western Ohio rally: "We can't afford four more years of Barack Obama."

The Republican challenger made three public appearances in Ohio on Wednesday and will spend two of the next three days in the state.

"Ohio could well be the place that elects the next president of the United States," he said. "I need you to do that job. We're going to win together."

– The Associated Press

Republicans, meanwhile, want to bolster their own standing, which polls indicate has improved since nominee Mitt Romney's strong showing against the president.

Thursday's debate will be the only contest between the two men, but it could be critical for the Obama campaign, which finds its numbers falling in key battleground states since the first debate.

"There's some thinking in conservative circles that Romney did so well and Obama did so poorly that a really good showing by Ryan could firmly establish a trend of momentum for the Republicans," said Keith Appell, a Republican consultant who advises conservative groups.

Even Democrats acknowledge that the stakes are higher now for Biden to deliver a solid performance.

"For Democrats, it's an opportunity to start the comeback narrative," said Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster. "It's a chance to restart, to acknowledge that we had a tough debate, but we've had some improving jobs numbers and we've got momentum heading into the next round."

The 90-minute faceoff at Centre College in Danville, Ky., which starts at 9 p.m. EDT, will focus on foreign and domestic issues. Martha Raddatz, chief foreign correspondent for ABC News, will moderate.

Though Ryan doesn't have much foreign policy experience, Biden does. But Ryan is likely to push Romney's charge that the administration has mishandled events in the Middle East, particularly the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.

Expect Biden to cast himself as a champion of the working class and to portray his opponent as a far-right conservative and a member of the unpopular House of Representatives. He'll look to tie Ryan to his budget plan, which cuts into popular programs, and charge that Ryan wants to radically change Medicare and cut taxes for the wealthy.

Ryan will likely portray Biden as partner in a presidency that has failed to fix the economy and improve conditions for millions of jobless Americans.

While the campaigns might view this debate as critical, analysts say that it's just as likely to be forgotten as soon as Tuesday, when Obama and Romney meet for a second time. They will take questions from undecided voters in a town hall-style encounter in New York. Their final debate will be Oct. 22 in Florida.

The vice presidential debate "rapidly becomes fairly irrelevant" by the time the next presidential matchup occurs, Charlie Cook, an independent political analyst and editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report, said at a post-presidential debate briefing last week held by the National Journal.

"I'm thinking maybe vice presidential debates should carry a disclaimer: 'This debate is for entertainment purposes only,' " he said.

Analysts point in particular to the 1988 debate between the vice presidential contenders when Lloyd Bentsen, the patrician Democratic Texas senator, memorably took apart his younger Republican counterpart, Dan Quayle, with a withering quip about how the young Indiana senator was "no Jack Kennedy."

But Democrats still lost handily that year.

Still, a good performance by Biden would be a tonic to the Obama campaign, and a strong showing by Ryan in his first national debate would undoubtedly further energize Republicans and add to Romney's momentum.

Biden came off the campaign trail nearly a week ago to prepare, with mock debates using Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland playing the Ryan role. Van Hollen serves on the House Budget Committee with Ryan, its chairman.

Ryan has spent five days on debate preparation.

Standing in for Biden was attorney Ted Olson, the U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush, who successfully argued the contested 2000 presidential contest before the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

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