After U.S. President Barack Obama’s lacklustre debate performance last week, the Democratic campaign team faced enormous pressure to regain momentum through the vice-presidential debate.
But the result of the faceoff between Vice-President Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan wasn’t clear: A snap CNN poll found that 48 per cent of debate watchers declared Mr. Ryan the winner while 44 per cent picked Mr. Biden.
Where does that leave Mr. Obama’s campaign and that of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney?
We invited five experts to share their Friday campaign scorecards with The Globe and Mail, focusing on the debate.
Who do you think won the week? Click here to vote in our poll.
Michael Parkin is a Canadian and associate professor of politics at Oberlin College in Ohio. He studies the relationship between candidates, the media and voters.
Mr. Romney won the week based largely on the afterglow from last week’s debate. He took his renewed energy and viability to the trail, and his poll numbers – both nationally and in key battleground states – jumped up by the early to middle part of this week.
Although he made much of his debate performance, Mr. Romney did not put the election away. The vice-presidential debate only served to keep things tight. Mr. Ryan won on style – he was calm and serious. But Mr. Biden won on substance – he made the case Mr. Obama had failed to make last week.
It was close but Mr. Romney kept the edge this week.
Paul J. Quirk holds the Phil Lind Chair in U.S. Politics and Representation at the University of British Columbia. A former staff member of the Brookings Institution and professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he recently became a Canadian citizen.
Notwithstanding the highly anticipated vice-presidential debate Thursday evening, the main news of the week was Mr. Romney’s sweeping gains from his decisive win in the first presidential debate a week earlier. National polls shifted about three to five points in his favour, at least temporarily erasing Mr. Obama’s lead.
The media predictably hyped the vice-presidential debate as a potentially decisive contest. But the voters don’t worry much about candidates in the second spot on the ballot, unless one of them manages to fail quite extravagantly, as Sarah Palin did in 2008. In the event, the Joe Biden-Paul Ryan debate was close enough to a standoff that it should not noticeably affect voter support. At least in the short run, therefore, the week was a big win for Mr. Romney.
In the long run, however, the significance of the week will lie primarily in other events whose effects will unfold over the remaining four weeks of the campaign. An unexpectedly favourable jobs report, bringing unemployment below 8 per cent for the first time in almost four years, weakened Mr. Romney’s most powerful argument for replacing the president. Mr. Romney’s first major foreign-policy address struck commentators as mostly empty rhetoric. Most important, Mr. Romney re-confirmed last week’s 11th-hour swing toward moderation, making a series of emphatically centrist statements on taxes, Medicare, abortion and other issues.
Mr. Romney’s renewed moderation is a clear improvement of his positioning from the standpoint of swing voters. But the Republican base may blow up over it, and the Obama campaign will repeatedly point out the apparent opportunism. In a bold challenge to conventional political wisdom, Mr. Romney has confronted the normally damaging label of flip-flopper and decided to own it. The long-term result of the week, impossible to call at this point, will depend on how that decision plays out in the rest of the campaign.
Donald Critchlow is a political historian and holds the Barry M. Goldwater Chair of American Institutions at Arizona State University.
Welterweight match prelim:
Does anyone believe the received wisdom that presidential debates do not matter after the first Obama-Romney debate?
Last night’s VP match-up was a welterweight contest between an old pugilist Vice President Joe Biden and a young contender Paul Ryan. Mr. Biden came out swinging, showing he was an experienced battler able to excite his fan base. Between rounds he laughed, smirked, and taunted his young opponent. Mr. Ryan showed he was a finesse fighter, scoring on jabs but unable to land a knockout punch. Ole Joe played to his fans with his aggressiveness. For independents watching the bout, his performance was not reassuring that this was somebody who could work with the other corner after the fight.
The VP battle will not change anyone’s minds when they enter the voting booth three weeks from now. Rasmussen reported before the event aired that only 18 per cent said that the VP debate would change their opinion.
We now wait for the next two rounds of the championship bout, the main event. The first round went to Mr. Romney. Bets are now being taken on whether the current champ President Obama can keep the crown.
Diana Owen is an associate professor of political science and director of American Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
The Romney campaign gained some momentum this week in the wake of Mr. Romney’s solid performance in the first presidential debate. The media’s horse race coverage played up changes in the polls in favour of Mr. Romney, although this post-debate bounce appeared to be small and short-lived. After a lacklustre debate performance followed by public scoldings by Democratic heavyweights like James Carville, President Obama sought to change the dynamic as he took to the stump. He seemed to be channelling his more engaged and hard-hitting 2008 campaign persona, and claimed that he has been “too polite” to Mr. Romney.
Vice-presidential debates do not change the course of campaigns, and even Washington was distracted by the Major League baseball playoffs involving local teams. Still, political junkies looking forward to an energetic exchange between the vice-presidential candidates were not disappointed. In an era of incessant media scrutiny, Mr. Biden’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach to politics can be a liability. Last night this tactic served him well, as Biden unplugged kept Mr. Ryan on the defensive and the debates moving along. Mr. Ryan was articulate and competently reinforced the Republican campaign’s key talking points about taxes and the economy. But Mr. Biden’s snarky side comments – calling Mr. Ryan’s statements “malarkey” and “a bunch of stuff” – made for better copy. Mr. Biden was undeterred by the split-screen television presentation which showed his facial expression ranging from amused to annoyed. He gained favour with Democratic partisans and aggravated Republicans who didn’t like him to begin with. His performance enlivened debate watch parties where viewers played drinking games based on how many times Mr. Biden called Mr. Ryan “friend.”
The real winner of the debate may have been moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News who managed to maintain a semblance of order in the free-wheeling debate format. She asked tough questions that required the candidates to reflect on their personal and political sides. She raised the abortion issue by asking the two Roman Catholic candidates how their faith influenced their work in politics and their views. She has, though, come under fire by Fox News for not keeping Mr. Biden more firmly under wraps.
David Lublin is a professor in American University’s department of government in Washington, D.C.
The Winner: 2012 Joe Biden. The Loser: 1988 Joe Biden.
In 1988, then-Senator Biden ended his presidential campaign after being accused of plagiarism with the most bizarre aspect being that he borrowed the words of serial political loser Neil Kinnock. As Vice-President, Mr. Biden’s maintained his reputation as a smart and avuncular but gaffe-prone pol.
Fast forward to 2012. In the vice-presidential debate, Mr. Biden revealed himself as a passionate politician relentless on the attack and authoritative in his bearing and answers. The Vice-President showed that he could deploy his knowledge not just to be glib but commanding.
More importantly for President Obama’s campaign, he put the rapidly advancing Romney-Ryan ticket on the defensive. Mr. Ryan could not answer pointed questions on the specifics of how one cuts taxes 20 per cent while simultaneously promising to balance the budget. Mr. Biden similarly left Americans wondering how the Republicans plan to develop a more muscular foreign policy without starting new wars.
Make no mistake. Mr. Ryan did not ride the Wayback Machine back to 1988 either. No callow, deer in the headlights in the face of a more senior and experienced rival like Dan Quayle, Mr. Ryan held his own and certainly did not let down his running mate.
Nonetheless, it’s time to put the caricature of Vice-President Biden to bed. The prepared, passionate fighter has arrived.