On Thursday, October 11, Vice Presdient Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan will square off in the vice presidential debate in the run up to this year's eleciton on November 6. Historically, the VP debates do not play a critical role, but this year may be different. Given President Obama's abysmal performance in the first debate with GOP candidate Romney — and the obsessive way not just the media, but also the Obama campaign itself has continued to keep the analysis in the news cycle — there is an increasing amount of pressure on Biden. However, Ryan and the GOP need to be careful about their historic underestimating of Biden's popularity and message articulation. He knows how to talk to people through the camera in a way the other three candidates may never achieve and as we saw from the last debate — style counts. Here are some elements you may not have thought about to be on the look out for during the debate:
1. The Table: The candidates will both be seated. If you remember the Edwards-Cheney debate of 2004 (C-SPAN) you may understand the implications of this. Seated at a table is much more initimate and immediate than standing at podiums on a larger stage. It seems as though the candidates are engaged in more of a managed conversation sometimes than an actual debate. However, in the case of the 2004 debate, the seated format can also prove to be more initimidating to certain candidates. Cheney appeared much more formidable and "adult" than the younger, more handsome Edwards — like a son being schooled by his father in foreign policy. ("You're dead wrong" was one of Cheney's famous lines from the debate). In Biden and Ryan there is the same age and experience dynamic, but it remains to be seen whether Biden can bring his mettle and "attack dog" role to the table, literally. Insiders have said he is less prone to his famous gaffes when doing seated interviews, so that does bode well for him. Ryan is a wild card in this respect, this being his first debate on the national stage. The pressure of the more immediate setting could be getting to him, as he ended an interview earlier this week by claiming "you're trying to stuff words in people's mouths?" when asked a question about specific tax cuts. Here's the full video with the ABC affiliate in Flint, MI. Also, take note of the candidates body language in the split-screen camera shots. Most likely, the timing devices will also be visible and right on the table in front of them.
2. The moderator. It's always wonderful to see the specific energy, rhythm, and topics of debates depending on their moderators. Moderator choice may not be looked on by the public with much scrutiny, but is a careful and thoughtful selection that is made. Female moderators are very rare, but this year's VP debate will be presided over by veteran journalist Martha Raddatz. (In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit I am an admirer of her. To be fair, I did not agree with all the criticisms of Jim Lehrer in the first debate either though. The man was essentially fired, on air, in front of millions by Mitt Romney's PBS de-funding declaration. Cut him some slack!) She may play a bigger role in all this than we expect. It's interesting to note, no women's rights issues came up in the first presdiential debate despite a plethora of proposed legislation regarding reproductive rights, health care matters, and equal pay rights playing a huge role this year. I think we can expect that to change, especially given Biden's likeability factor with women on average and on the campaign trail specifically.
3. The world at large. Given Raddatz' extensive foreign policy experience, this debate will be a real test for Ryan, who comes in to the election much as Obama had in 2008 — lacking any specific experience in the area. Afghanistan and comments made about troops may also be on the agenda, with Raddatz having written a book (The Long Road Home - A Story of War and Family) on the subject which was a New York Times bestseller. This is the one and only debate the VPs will have this year. These two men are in the running for a position that is one heartbeat away from the presidency. Foreign policy is a major concern, but also the area in which there is the most daylight between Biden and Ryan. The election will not be won on foreign policy, but it might be lost on the threat of new or continuing wars in my opinion. Expect the Romney plan to dramatically increase defense spending to be discussed in light of Ryan's budget plan, the main reason for which he was taken on as candidate.
4. Tweet tweet. Big Bird isn't the only one chirping. The last presidential debate was the "most tweeted about even in U.S. politics," according to Twitter, a tool used to great effect by both Democrats and Republicans. The candidates are well aware of the astounding 10 million tweets sent out about the #debates. We can expect curated sound bites, as always, but given Ryan's relative youth, he may be the one who is more consciously aware of the real-time news implications of every single word and action during the debate.
The debate is scheduled to take place in the small town of Danville, Kentucky on October 11, Thursday evening. Broadcast live at 9pm on nearly every network (including PBS!) and online at www.2012presidentialelectionsnews.com for 90 minutes.