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Pressure is on Biden after Obama’s lackluster debate performance
WASHINGTON — He has been stereotyped as the Obama administration’s gaffe-prone sideshow.
But Vice President Joe Biden also is a veteran debater who was in the Senate for a quarter century and is perhaps the Democratic White House’s most passionate defender of the working class.
Now, with his debate against Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan coming up on Thursday, Biden is under pressure to help President Barack Obama’s campaign recapture the momentum it enjoyed before Obama was outmaneuvered by Republican rival Mitt Romney last week in the first of their three debates.
That debate trimmed Obama’s lead in the polls and raised the stakes for the lone vice presidential debate, which also will be a national debut of sorts for Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman and budget specialist.
With the Romney-Ryan campaign energized, Democrats are in the surprising position of relying on Biden, a perpetual political wild card, to fire up their campaign. Democrats did get a boost in Friday’s jobs report, which showed the nation’s unemployment rate dipped below 8 percent last month for the first time since January 2009, the month Obama took office.
“This is not about changing minds. This is about changing the momentum,” Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis said. “The vice president is going to have to be very aggressive in undercutting Republican arguments. He can’t allow Ryan to control the debate the way Romney controlled his debate.”
An aggressive Romney went after Obama in their debate, offering what appeared to be new positions — misrepresentations, Democrats claimed later — on taxes, health care and other issues.
Obama, strangely passive, left many of Romney’s assertions unanswered. It will be up to Biden, far more comfortable than Obama in the role of aggressor, to fill in the blanks on what Democrats say are Romney’s shifting positions.
Biden could be well suited to the role.
He was a sharper performer than Obama when they debated as presidential candidates during the 2008 Democratic primaries. The former Delaware senator’s blunt-talking style makes him a particularly effective communicator with blue-collar voters.
“Biden has a chance to undo some of the damage from the first debate,” said David Steinberg, a debate coach and political communications specialist at the University of Miami.
“The vice president’s biggest job will be as a fact checker,” he said. “He can come in and say, ‘Well, this is what Governor Romney said last Wednesday, and this is why it’s wrong.’”
Biden, campaigning in Iowa on Thursday, said he had been studying Republican campaign positions and promised to hold Ryan accountable while sticking to the facts.
“I don’t want to say anything in the debate that’s not completely accurate,” Biden told reporters. “I just want to make sure that when I say those things I don’t have the congressman say, ‘No, no, no, I don’t have that position,’ or ‘That’s not the governor’s position.’”
The next presidential debate — the second of three — will not be until Oct. 16, leaving Thursday’s vice presidential showdown in Danville, Kentucky, as the next major item on the campaign calendar in the race to the Nov. 6 election.
Vice presidential debates rarely play a role in deciding a White House race, but Romney’s decisive win in the first presidential debate has cranked up interest in Thursday’s encounter.
Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees, fared well in his face-off against Republican Sarah Palin in the 2008 vice presidential debate and proved to be a strong debater during his failed bid for president four years ago.
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