By RICHARD A. LEE
Unlike the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, there was no clear cut winner in Thursday’s vice-presidential exchange. Polls and pundits are reaching varying conclusions, and each candidate scored enough points to convince his supporters that he came out on top.
From my perspective, I have to give the edge to Democrats, and here is why:
Much has been made of Vice President Joe Biden’s demeanor during the debate. He often was seen smiling, laughing and smirking while his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, was speaking. And Biden frequently interrupted the congressman to rebut and challenge his statements.
In fact, it is the vice president’s behavior that is dominating much of the conversation in the aftermath of the debate – not any of the substantive arguments either candidate made.
During the 90-minute exchange, Congressman Ryan repeatedly reminded viewers that the economy is suffering, that he feels the Obama Administration mishandled the Libyan embassy incident and many of the promises the president made during the 2008 campaign have not come to fruition.
If I were part of the president’s re-election team, I’d be ecstatic that people are talking about Joe Biden’s facial expressions instead of the economy, Libya and broken promises.
For Republicans to capture the White House, they need to change the conversation. However, their immediate response fits right into the Democratic script. Within minutes of the end of the debate, the GOP was out with talking points, ads and social media postings about the vice president’s facial expressions and the number of times he interrupted Ryan.
The criticisms are valid, but they are unlikely to translate into large numbers of votes for the Romney-Ryan ticket since they resonated most strongly with voters who already are on the GOP wagon. For Democrats, it was just another case of Joe Biden being Joe Biden, and nothing that happened at Thursday’s debate is likely to make them jump ship.
It’s always the folks in the middle, the undecided voters, who determine which way close elections go. And the longer the conversation remains on Joe Biden’s laughter and smirks – and away from the more serious and more important issues – the more difficult is becomes for Republicans to win support from undecided voters.
Richard A. Lee teaches journalism at St. Bonaventure University. He previously spent more than 30 years working in journalism, government and politics in New Jersey. Read more of Rich's columns at richleeonline and follow him on Twitter @richleeonline.
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