No. 2s, Biden, Ryan, Square Off In Combative Debate

Oct 12, 2012
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Last night's vice presidential debate offered a reminder about American politics. It can be infuriating, misleading and irrelevant, but at its best politics becomes a spectacle - a highly informative show - which is what the vice presidential candidates delivered last night in a debate in Kentucky.

It is hard to say if their spirited discussion changed any minds or won over undecided voters, but Republicans saw their candidate, Congressman Paul Ryan, contend solidly with his older opponent. Democrats found release in Biden's fierce correcting of the record - after President Obama's widely criticized showing last week.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Debate moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News started with the foreign policy issue of the day, Libya, and the attack last month that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: Biden began his answer...

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: But he quickly turned to a criticism of Governor Romney's foreign policy positions, signaling right away that he'd be much more aggressive than President Obama had been in last week's debate. Biden said the president has a strong record. He cited ending U.S. combat operations in Iraq and the killing of Osama bin Laden. He then pointed to a Mitt Romney line about bin Laden from years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: But Congressman Ryan followed by describing the events in Libya as, quote, "emblematic of a chaotic foreign policy."

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: Next, another thorny foreign policy issue, nuclear weapons and Iran. Ryan called it another failure by the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: Biden often reacted to Ryan's statements with disbelief and laughter - or with something like this...

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: On the economy, Biden said it was in freefall when the president took office. He called it the great recession. Ryan countered...

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: Throughout the 90 minutes, Raddatz kept a rein on the combatants, giving them time to argue, but also keeping them on topic. Ryan defended his running mate against Democratic charges that he would have done nothing to help the auto industry when General Motors and Chrysler were near death's door in 2008 and 2009. Biden and the president frequently quote a newspaper editorial Romney wrote back then with the headline "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: Ryan went on to describe how Romney visited that family one Christmas.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: Here's Biden.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: The exchanges were often heated. Each interrupted the other, though Biden was more aggressive on that score - a tactic widely predicted as a reaction to the president's low-key showing last week, prompting this from Ryan.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: And they battled over whether Romney can cut tax rates across the board by 20 percent, as promised, and find enough current tax deductions to eliminate that he doesn't have to raise the final tax result for the middle class or add to the deficit. Biden said it is impossible. Here's Ryan...

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: The subject switched back to foreign policy and the wisdom of setting the firm timetable for pulling out of Afghanistan by 2014. There was agreement that the timetable is reasonable but by setting a hard date, Ryan said the administration helps the enemy. And he said it comes in the middle of a fighting season. He said that's a mistake.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: Here is Biden...

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

GONYEA: And that's how much of this debate felt. Historically, vice presidential debates have not had a measurable effect on the election result, but they often contribute to the dynamics along the way. That may hold true this year. Ryan has proven he can hold his own against a seasoned opponent and Biden has shown that counterpunching may be the incumbents' best strategy in the next debate next week. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Danville, Kentucky.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Many people watched the debate last night with a device in hand. Twitter was exploding with commentary. You can continue the discussion with us. We're on social media throughout the day. You can find us on Facebook. We're also on Twitter, among other places - @MorningEdition, @NPRGreene and @NPRInskeep.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.