The Americans who will sit down and watch Thursday night’s debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan might be reminded of the vice presidential debate four years ago. In 2008 Biden, hardly a stranger to Capitol Hill, sparred with newcomer Sarah Palin. Like Ryan, Palin was chosen for the GOP ticket because she would be able to “energize the base,” but the similarities between 2008 and 2012 don’t stop there.
The early prognostications speculated that Ryan will be a more formidable opponent than Palin was. NBC News reports that Ryan, like Biden, has experience with “super committee” compromises and the Simpson-Bowles deficit plan.
The current vice president has an edge that he was able to take advantage of in 2008 against Palin, foreign policy. As a congressman from Wisconsin, Ryan entered the vice presidential race with less foreign policy experience than his opponent, but more than his predecessor on the GOP ticket. Ryan has visited Iraq once and Afghanistan three times, with his most recent trip coming in 2011.
Biden has been to both countries a combined 20 times and has the advantage of being an influential part of the Obama administration; even if that administration’s Middle East record is something that’s been a hot-button issue in recent weeks.
One advantage Biden has lost since 2008 is eloquence. The vice president has been lampooned endlessly for his remarks that often are criticized being clumsy. His loveable uncle type of an image may not fare as well against Ryan as it did against Palin, whose accent was a storyline of its own during the 2008 campaign season. Democrats and Republicans alike will remember Tina Fey's "Saturday Night Live" impersonation.
Ryan came under fire during the Republican National Convention for a speech that many said twisted the facts but Forbes recently deemed him an “excellent communicator.”
“As a leader in any field you can have great ideas, but if you cannot sell those ideas persuasively then you stand no chance of changing anyone’s mind,” wrote columnist Carmine Gallo.
Contrast that with Biden’s notorious 2006 gaffe when he told a supporter of Indian descent that “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.”
Biden will also have pressure on him to swing the momentum back to his own ticket. When the vice presidential debate of 2008 came around the Republican ticket had again begun to run out of steam after a virtually unknown governor was named as John McCain’s running mate. The country was excited about potentially having its first African-American president, but now that same president has fallen out of favor among the some of those who marked “Obama” on the ballot.
Now, Ryan will try to capitalize on Mitt Romney’s perceived win in his first debate over President Obama.
“I think that increases the pressure on both of them, Ryan and Biden – and certainly on the vice president to show up because I’m not sure Obama did show up for his debate,” Bill Press of Current TV told Politico. “Biden needs to show up and be aggressive and assertive and sort of take charge. I think it also increases the pressure on Paul Ryan to put in a good performance, to match the good performance his running mate put in.”
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