As I watched the vice presidential candidates last night, I thought Joe Biden (age 69) and Rep. Paul Ryan (age 42) could easily pass for father and son. But on policy and ideology, they could not be further apart.
While Biden came across as feisty—smirking occasionally—and passionate that President Obama deserves four more years as president, Ryan appeared poised, articulate, and more confident that Gov. Mitt Romney is the better choice.
With just 25 days left in the campaign, and last night being the only time the two would debate, the stakes were high. The candidates were under tremendous pressure to perform well, to not embarrass their respective bosses, and to convince the public that each is fully prepared to assume the presidency, should the need arise.
achieved that mandate.
What struck me most was Ryan's ability to fend off the more aggressive Biden on the issues of the national budget, health care, and Social Security. The budget plan spelled out by Ryan, which has been widely debated in Congress, pinpoints government program cuts, tax changes, and health care overhaul that they claim will create over 12 million new jobs.
Ryan did a solid job in explaining the Republican options to jumpstart the economy, and clearly established himself as a rising star in the Republican party (and, in the process, making Romney look pretty darn smart in selecting him as his running mate). On domestic policy, Biden reinforced the needed tax benefits for the middle-class and small businesses to stay afloat, and the 4 million jobs created under the Obama Administration.
On foreign policy, the debate clearly belonged to Biden. After all, he served for 36 years in the Senate and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden was able to share intimate details on how the Obama administration managed the crisis in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the present turmoil with Iran. And he successfully credited Obama with having a detailed plan in troubled spots of Syria and Iran compared to Romney.
Ultimately, Ryan won the domestic policy debate and Biden won the foreign policy discussion. Ryan was solid and balanced, and exceeded all expectations that he was too junior to be in the national spotlight and go toe-to-toe with Biden. Of course, he lacks the foreign policy experience necessary to be president, so that would have to be on-the-job training, should he make it to the vice president position. However, Biden did have the edge in this area, and re-established his exceptional credentials as a leading expert on foreign policy and intelligence matters.
All in all, the debate was lively and entertaining. Perhaps most critical for the Obama campaign, Biden helped the president overcome the embarrassment of, and miserable failure in, the first presidential debate
. And while Romney entered the vice presidential debate with a two point edge over Obama, the lead is unlikely to budge heading into next Tuesday's second presidential debate in New York, because of the way Ryan held his own.
So now, the focus will quickly shift back to President Obama: Can he follow up on Vice President Biden’s strong performance last night and regain the lead?
Neil Dhillon is managing director of MSL Washington DC and leads the firm’s public affairs practice. With more than 25 years of experience providing strategic communications and public affairs counsel for a wide variety of clients, as well as serving during the Clinton administration, Neil has represented many Fortune 500 companies, foreign governments, trade associations, and non-profit organizations.