It was crystal clear tonight that Vice President Biden was determined not to reprise the president's passive performance in Denver. In that, he succeeded. He also succeeded in interrupting his opponent constantly, repeatedly laughing at strange moments, and playing the 'loud anger' card frequently. Rep. Paul Ryan's serenity in the face of the Vice President's behavior was almost supernatural. On actual talking points, the two men battled to a draw. Ryan excelled on economic issues, gave a fabulous answer on abortion and closed strong. He also held his own on foreign policy. Biden scored on Afghanistan and by pointing out that Ryan requested stimulus funds for his district after the law passed. On style, I'd imagine Biden delighted the Left-wing base, but put-off most others. He was boorish, dismissive, bullying and rude. Ryan was occasionally too timid; a strong demand that Biden stop interrupting him would have done him some good, but he came across as pleasant and informed. I gather that CNN's independent viewer "dials" were fairly unkind to Biden throughout the evening, and flat-lined during some of the lengthy foreign policy exchanges. There's no question that international affairs are awfully important (one of the Vice President's biggest mistakes was claiming that the administration didn't know that American security forces had requested reinforcements in Benghazi, an outright falsehood), but most Americans are concerned about jobs, economic growth, and the spiraling debt. Precious few of the questions addressed those core concerns, which was a major shortcoming of moderator Martha Raddatz. She also seemed to ask tougher follow-ups to Ryan (not to mention cutting him off in the middle of important points), but he handled it pretty well. He did not whine -- unlike Biden, who seemed to think he was getting cheated (!) on talking time. The talk clock confirmed that he ultimately talked more than his opponent, and clearly interjected far more often.
In general, both men succeeded to some extent. Biden perked up the morose liberal base, which really needed a shot in the arm. Turnout will matter in November. Ryan was informed, plausible and likeable. He did zero damage to his running mate, and likely reassured potential Romney-leaners that he's up for the job. So a rough tie on debating points, and a win for Ryan on tone and demeanor. President Obama and Governor Romney will lock horns next Tuesday night in New York in a town hall-style debate format.
More to come...
UPDATE - CNN's focus group of indepedents split evenly on who won: Roughly one third said Ryan, another third sided with Biden, and the rest said a tie or neither. Among this group, Ryan won on which candidate has better solutions for the future; Biden had the edge on which candidate cares about people "like you." Wolf Blizter calls the night "a draw." One undecided voter on CNN just called Biden "a buffoon."
UPDATE II - CBS News' snap poll shows a Biden win, 50-31 percent.
UPDATE III - A CNBC insta-poll gives it to Ryan by a similar margin, 56-36. (Apparently this is an online poll, so it's bouncing around. CBS and CNN's numbers are more scientific -- but also contradictory).
UPDATE IV - It's a miracle: Biden didn't say "literally" once.
UPDATE V - Oh, you:
UPDATE VI - Media observers from across the spectrum were unimpressed by Biden's bizarre cackling and grinning. He seemed to find everything from Libya to Iran to unempolyment hil-arious! Even a PBS correspondent called his mugging for the camera "really, really inappropriate."
UPDATE VII - According to one preliminary count, Biden interrupted Ryan 96 times. Ryan interrupted six times. Some of the ladies on Fox's focus group aren't happy about the Vice President's hyper-aggressive approach.
UPDATE VIII - CNN's post-debate poll (not its focus group, mentioned above) gives Ryan the advantage on who won, 48-44. Basically a push.
UPDATE IX - Expect to hear more about Biden's assertion about the security situation in Benghazi. He was untruthful in a big way. Even Andrea Mitchell felt compelled to fact check this point. Was Biden lying, or does he have no idea what's going on? Neither inspires confidence: