Only in America could tag-team wrestling serve as a sensible political model.
Eight days after Mitt Romney slapped a half-nelson on President Barack Obama, clearly winning a first round on points, their two surrogates will climb into the ring this evening to give their principals a breather.
The one and only debate between Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic incumbent, and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the GOP challenger, will take place in the small college town of Danville, Ky., said to be one of the most Mayberry-like cities in the nation.
Don’t expect the encounter to be neighborly. With 26 days left, too much is at stake.
Biden, the former Delaware senator often derided by the GOP as a walking gaffe machine, will be asked to undo the damage done by Obama’s uninspired performance in Denver – the president said Wednesday he was “just too polite” – and put a lid on Romney’s rising poll numbers.
The vice president will be expected to mention what Obama didn’t: An unemployment rate now below 8 percent, Romney’s “47 percent” video, the Republican’s changing statements on abortion, and the late Osama bin Laden.
With a federal debt now at $16 trillion, Ryan’s first close-up since his introduction to the nation in Tampa is sure to feature his expertise as chairman of the House Budget Committee – and his take-your-medicine recommendations for a privatized Medicare for those now 55 or younger, and a state-by-state voucher system for federal welfare payments.
As many times as Biden mentions bin Laden, Ryan will mention Libya and the deaths of four U.S. diplomatic personnel on Sept. 11.
Biden has the edge in debate experience. His 2008 session with Sarah Palin was the most-watched vice presidential debate in history – a high-water mark unlikely to be topped this evening. This despite another historic tidbit: For the first time, both vice presidential nominees are Catholic.
As political creatures, vice presidential candidates aren’t necessarily designed to be liked. A poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press declared that 51 percent of American voters have an unfavorable impression of Biden. Forty percent have an unfavorable view of Ryan – while slightly more view him favorably.
For more handicapping, I turned to two Atlanta political veterans. Former mayor Shirley Franklin, a Democrat, campaigned with Biden in Philadelphia in 2008, and often interacted with the vice president during her last year in office.
Franklin doesn’t necessarily agree that Biden is working from a debate deficit.
“I would have preferred for [Obama] to be more forceful, but I thought he was very thoughtful. I don’t think the debate last Wednesday persuaded anybody that he was a good candidate. But I actually don’t think it dissuaded anyone either,” Franklin said. “Certainly, Romney was much more coherent. Whether he was substantive or not is another matter.”
Franklin likes what Biden will bring to the stage: A firm, blue-collar grasp of domestic issues, and strong schooling in foreign policy – Biden is a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“He has a real grasp of what happens on the ground,” she said, reminding me that it was Biden who toured Cobb County after that historic flood in 2009.
Eric Tanenblatt is Romney’s finance chairman in Georgia, and one of the presidential campaign’s top fund-raisers nationally. The senior managing director at an Atlanta law firm was in Denver last week, and will be at Centre College tonight.
Tanenblatt said he wasn’t surprised by last week’s outcome. “To me, that was the Mitt Romney that I know. The president’s lack of interest only made it better,” he said.
Tanenblatt is among those who expect the incumbent vice president to compensate. “I’m sure Biden’s being coached to go for the jugular and try to fix what happened last week,” he said.
The loser of tonight’s debate is likely to be the fellow who allows himself to become the issue.
“They’re going to try and dwell on the Ryan budget, and I think Ryan is going to make sure that he articulates that the Mitt Romney budget is not exactly the Paul Ryan House budget,” Tanenblatt said. “They agree on principal, but Mitt Romney is the top of the ticket. I think he’ll be able to articulate Mitt’s vision.”
And keep in mind that younger Americans like himself – Tanenblatt is 46 – are aware of the need to fix Social Security and Medicare. “As someone of my generation, I don’t think there’s going to be much around unless we do something,” he said.
The final participant in the debate will be moderator Martha Raddatz, chief foreign correspondent for ABC News. The Daily Caller, a Washington conservative newspaper and website, created a stir earlier this week by noting that Obama attended Raddatz’ wedding in 1991. As a friend of the groom.
The couple has divorced, and each has remarried. The Ryan campaign has declared, to Fox News, no less, that it has “no concerns” about the 21-year-old connection.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider