Winner: Joe Biden
Scores: Biden 82 | Ryan 80
Judge: Jason Jarvis
The story of this debate is offense, offense, offense. This was a vastly more entertaining debate than the first Presidential debate. It was marked by several testy exchanges between Biden and Ryan over taxes, Afghanistan and Iran. Biden wins this debate thanks to his passion and ability to challenge the inconsistent facts of Ryan. Biden successfully appealed to his own vast experience as a member of Congress and diplomat and often sounded a bit like a father scolding his wayward, naïve son. It is worth noting that the moderator for this debate was substantially better than in the first Presidential debate, leading to a more valuable discussion and forcing both candidates to address weaknesses in their positions.
The Issues (Matter)
While a range of issues were discussed, I think that two issues encapsulated this debate: Iran and Taxes
Iran: The discussion of Iran highlighted the lack of agreement on evidence used by both sides. Ryan highlighted Israel’s red line and that threat of a nuclear Iran. In contrast, Biden was emphatic about the inability of Iran to manufacture a weapon even if they enrich uranium stating that “Facts matter” and “This is a bunch of stuff” leading to a moment of levity as Ryan noted that “He is Irish” causing a chuckle in the audience. Nonetheless, Biden sounded like an expert on Iran as he invoked his own experience, noting that “Bibi [Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu] has been my friend for 39 years.”
Taxes: Paul Ryan sounded confident and persuasive in his discussion of small business and the danger of Obama’s approach. However, he was unable to address Biden’s charge that 97% of businesses would not be impacted by the Obama tax plan. More problematic was the fact that Ryan was unable to explain his own tax plan. Both the moderator and Biden attempted to get Ryan to be specific about the Romney/Ryan tax plan to no avail.
Ryan seemed calm, rational and knowledgeable throughout the debate. On balance he held his own and was effective at using humor, such as when he made light of Biden’s occasional verbal gaffes. Biden’s strength came from the sheer range of emotion that he was able to harness across the debate. Biden signaled early on that he wouldn’t back down when he characterized Ryan’s comments as “Mularkey!” He was passionate and energetic, but was perhaps too excessive in his reactions to Ryan’s comments. While some people will argue this was offensive, I think that it was an important move for Biden as he sought to compensate for Obama’s passive approach to his debate with Romney.
In sum, while this was a close debate Biden was more aggressive and effectively challenged the details of Ryan’s position. For this reason I give a Biden a victory.