It was the Young Gun versus the Old G and everything that last week's presidential debate was not. During their 90-minute exchange in Kentucky Thursday night, Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, engaged in a lively and sometimes sharp discussion on domestic and foreign policy.
Each man had a job to do.
For Biden, it was to calm the rankled nerves of the Democratic base that has been feeling dispirited by President Obama's performance when he squared off with Mitt Romney in Denver. Biden did not disappoint. He immediately launched attacks that Obama mystifyingly had not, including Romney's secretly taped comments asserting that 47 percent of Americans are overly reliant on government and his opposition to the auto bailout and call for the foreclosure crisis to bottom out.
“You’ve probably detected my frustration with their attitude about the American people,” Biden said. “He’s talking about my mother and father. He’s talking about the places I grew up.”
Biden, who is decades older than Ryan, frequently grinned at his opponent with disdain, shook his head in disbelief and mocked his responses as "malarkey" and "a bunch of stuff." He also hammered the campaign's theme that the Romney-Ryan ticket is more interested in helping the rich than struggling Americans and suggested that as commander-in-chief Romney would start another war.
One of his strongest moments came when he pointed out how Ryan, who had slammed the administration's stimulus plan, made two stimulus funding requests for his district.
But Ryan proved that he's no pushover and kept his cool, showing confidence and a command of the issues. He argued that Obama is taking the nation in the wrong direction both at home and abroad. He pointedly accused the administration of not providing adequate security at the Libyan consulate where an American ambassador and three other embassy staff members were killed last month. He also took aim at its handling of Iran's efforts to build a nuclear weapon.
In response to Biden's "47 percent" attack, the Wisconsin Republican said, "I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes words don't come out of your mouth the right way," referring to the vice president's penchant for verbal gaffes.
"But I always say what I mean," a laughing Biden shot back, adding, "And so does Romney."
So, who won?
In a snap poll conducted by CNN, respondents were split, with 48 percent giving the win to Ryan and 44 to Biden. But in a CBS News poll of uncommitted voters, 50 percent said Biden won, 31 percent said Ryan and 19 percent called it a draw.
"Both candidates came out very well prepared. Each clearly laid out a vision for where we've been and where they want to take this country," said University of Louisville political scientist Dewey Clayton. "I would give it to Biden because going into the debate the bar was higher. Clearly after Obama's perceived lackluster performance in the first debate, everyone was looking to Biden to see if he could stop the hemorrhaging that was occurring."
Clayton added that the onus is now back on Obama and Romney when they face off in their second debate next week in New York.
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(Photos from left: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)