After Mitt Romney won Round One of the presidential debates, and speedily tightened the polls in battleground states, Democrats are praying that Vice President Joe Biden can regain some ground for his ticket in Thursday night's clash with Paul Ryan in Danville, Ky. Many Republicans seem almost complacently confident, assuming that Ryan, one of the party's brightest stars (and a blindingly telegenic candidate to boot), will easily dispatch the gaffe-prone veep. And voters largely agree, with a clear majority predicting that Ryan will win the debate. But is everyone underestimating Joe Biden?
Yes. Biden is no pushover: "Republicans won't even pretend that Joe Biden's synapses still crackle," says Dave Weigel at Slate. But this skilled debater has qualities that President Obama sorely lacked at his debate: "[Biden] comes off like he actually cares about politics and wants to keep his job." Biden can "brag in detail about Democratic bills like they're his grown children heading off for college," and "could show the pulse that hair-shirted Democrats wanted Barack Obama to show last week." Don't expect Biden to "mellow out" on the stage.
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But Ryan is a formidable opponent: Romney's running mate is smart, says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, even if "some liberals seem to think Ryan's intelligence is some kind of facade." Not only that, "he's sufficiently engaged in the policy conversation that he knows both the arguments for and the arguments against his positions" — a key advantage in any debate. And "while he's a highly ideological thinker," he "comes off as an affable, decent, conservative guy." The debate will test Biden sorely.
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Both are good. And both should play it safe: Biden excelled in his 2008 debate against Sarah Palin, "choosing sober gravity" to offset Palin's folksiness, says Molly Ball at The Atlantic. In a 2010 health care summit with Obama, Ryan proved himself to be "studious, persuasive, and armed with the facts to make his case." But polls show that both Ryan and Biden aren't particularly popular with voters. "Given the low regard in which both men are held, their best hope might be to do no harm."
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