NOTE: An updated and revised version of this post is now available at Huffington Post:
Here is a summary of my thoughts, comments, and reactions to the 2012 vice presidential debate, held here at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky on October 11, 2012, presented in no particular order:
“Who won the debate?”
I think both candidates did a pretty good job of doing what they needed to do in this debate. Joe Biden of course had to come out swinging and be on the attack. Democrats were widely disappointed in President Obama’s performance last week and Biden needed to do everything that Obama did NOT do last week. This included being aggressive, direct, confrontational, and challenging. He needed to give demoralized Democrats a reason to stay energized. I think he accomplished this goal. Of course, it’s a fine line between being assertive and coming off as a bully. I don’t know that he definitively crossed the line, but he certainly straddled it the entire evening.
For Paul Ryan, he essentially need to show that he was confident and able to hold his own on the national stage. He needed to show that he could talk about policies other than Medicare. In all of these things, I think he did about as well as could be expected. He started off a little shaky in the first ten minutes or so, but then found his footing and did very well the rest of the evening.
Thus, I score this debate more or less a toss-up. Democrats will likely say that Biden won and Republicans will say that Ryan won. They both got done what they needed to get done.
“What effect will this have on the election?”
Historically, vice presidential debates have had a smaller effect on the ultimate outcome than the presidential debates. That being said, I don’t think this debate will be completely irrelevant. I think that the positive momentum for Romney-Ryan will be slowed somewhat and that Democrats will be a bit more energized. (I also think that most Democrats in America tonight are wishing that Joe Biden would be the one to handle the last two debates against Mitt Romney!) I think that the campaign narrative will even out a little bit more going the next debate next Tuesday evening. And the campaign narrative is what has been shown to affect public opinion moreso than actual candidate performances.
“Is there anything else you’d like to share?”
Yes! I’m glad you asked. First, I think this debate was a bit too “wonky.” Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing to focus so much on numbers and statistics and all that. BUT 95% of the people watching this debate (many of which are very politically sophisticated individuals) simply don’t have the specialized knowledge base necessary to critically evaluate the accuracy or merit of many of the arguments and evidences presented by the two candidates. In this, I think that both candidates could have done a better job of making their case in a way that was more accessible to American voters. That being said, there is some upside to showing voters that you know what you’re talking about and that you have a wealth of information to draw upon.
Second, I think the big winner in this debate was the moderator Martha Raddatz. She was firm and did a great job of pushing the candidates and holding their feet to the fire. And she asked my question.