Tonight, it’s the Old Pro vs. the Rookie in the first and only vice presidential debate. Viewers can count on Vice President Joe Biden, 69, to attack U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, 42, his Republican challenger, with every fiber of his being.
Two of the big issues for Biden will be Medicare and Ryan’s national budget proposals calling for spending cuts. Ryan has a clear record on both, and knows what’s coming.
“Obviously, what we expect is the vice president’s going to come at me like a cannonball,” Ryan said last week.
The debate will cover both foreign and domestic policy divided into nine 10-minute segments. It will be televised from 8 to 9:30 p.m. CDT. Martha Raddatz, chief foreign correspondent for ABC News, is the moderator.
The Associated Press said the debate stakes are high for both parties because of President Obama’s poor showing in the first presidential debate. GOP nominee Mitt Romney was the clear winner, and his performance has given Republicans new hope for victory on Nov. 6.
You can’t help but be amused at how spokesmen for both parties are giving the other side so much credit. Republicans talk about Biden’s experience because of his previous 18 debates as a presidential or vice presidential candidate. Democrats say don’t underestimate Ryan’s abilities.
Reince Priebus, GOP party chairman, said, “I think people realize Joe Biden is a gifted orator. He is very good at rhetoric, and I think he is very relatable, so I think it’s two different people, and I think it’s going to be a great night.”
Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, said, “Paul Ryan is an inside Washington guy, smart and wonky. He knows the budget better than anybody.”
If that sounds like setting one another up for the kill, that is exactly what it is.
Medicare is expected to dominate the debate, according to National Journal, a weekly political news magazine. Ryan wants to reform the national health care program to preserve it for future generations like his. Even Democrats admit Medicare has to be changed, but you won’t hear much about that tonight from Biden.
George E. Condon Jr. in his National Journal piece quoted Ryan from a March 2010 hearing by the House Budget Committee.
“If you’re under 55, those of us in my X generation and everybody else, we know we’re not getting the same program as it’s currently structured,” Ryan said. “So why don’t we come up with an idea to save the program, to make it sustainable to give us a benefit — my generation— that’s something we know we can count on?”
Biden will key his remarks to the 55 and over viewers who are on Medicare and know the program is facing a financial crisis. However, they don’t want anyone tampering with their health care — even though none of them would be affected.
The vice president will also repeat the false contention that Romney and Ryan want to eliminate Medicare and substitute it with a voucher program. Actually, their plan offers people the alternative of a voucher system or staying on existing Medicare.
Romney on a number of occasions has made the point that he would be the president, and it’s his — not Ryan’s — Medicare plan that would prevail. Biden isn’t expected to let that fact sway his opportunity to come down hard on the Medicare issue.
Biden has made it clear he wants to tie Romney to Ryan’s views, even though the two men don’t agree on a number of issues. Anything he can say to discredit Romney would help the Democrats make up for Obama’s poor showing in the presidential debate.
“What I’ve been doing mostly, quite frankly, is studying up on Congressman Ryan’s positions on the issues,” Biden said. “And Gov. Romney has embraced at least everything I can see.”
National Journal said it’s important to the Romney campaign that Ryan remember to answer questions as Romney’s running mate. And spokesmen say whatever Ryan did as budget chief isn’t the relevant issue at this point, which is just the opposite of what Biden is saying.
Kevin Madden, a Romney spokesman, said Ryan will measure up to the task by speaking as the member of a team.
“There’s one president. There’s one presidential candidate. There’s one person at the top of the ticket,” Madden said.
The AP said neither party expects undecided voters to be swayed by the vice presidential debate. However, Ryan has to turn in an effective performance if Republicans hope to continue the momentum Romney created last week. And following the Romney script is the best way to achieve that goal.
The vice presidential debate may not be a major factor in the election outcome, but it will definitely be interesting to see how the Rookie handles the Old Pro.
Meanwhile, political handicapper Charlie Cook in National Journal said voters should have a better idea by the end of this week how Romney’s performance helped his election chances. Cook said today will be the first time presidential election watchers will get full seven-day post-debate polling numbers from Gallup, which is expected to switch from registered voters to likely voters.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-494-4025 or [email protected].