Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan traded jabs Thursday in a feisty encounter in which the Democrat repeatedly mocked his Republican challenger in an effort to reclaim momentum lost by the Obama campaign after last Wednesday's presidential debate.
Seated close to each other on the debate stage in Danville, Ky., the vice presidential contenders slammed their opposing ticket on topics ranging from the recent terrorist attacks in Libya to tax cuts for the middle class and the preservation of entitlement programs for seniors.
Both sides claimed victory for their respective candidate. But unlike the first presidential debate, the American people may render a split decision.
Democrats were clamoring for Biden, 69, to come out swinging after President Obama was caught off guard last week by a commanding performance from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. And Ryan, 42, picked up where Romney left off, playing the attack dog the former Massachusetts governor needed in this critical debate before millions of television viewers. But Ryan was more subdued than the much more pugnacious vice president.
In his opening salvo, Ryan ripped the Obama administration for initially blaming the attacks on a U.S. consulate in Libya on an anti-Islam video, saying Americans were witnessing the "unraveling of the Obama foreign policy."
To which Biden replied: "With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey."
Throughout the night, Biden laughed as his opponent spoke, rolled his eyes and shook his head with disdain over the ideas espoused by his youthful counterpart. While Democrats cheered the aggressive style of the Capitol Hill veteran, some post-debate focus groups said the vice president's antics turned them off. Ryan, much more restrained, appeared to score well with women in snapshots after the encounter, a voting bloc where the Obama ticket has held a clear advantage.
Those scoring the debate on Twitter credited Biden with being more aggressive than Obama was last week. But some felt he crossed the line into bombast. And some found the youthful Ryan callow. "Hello, 911? There is an old man abusing a child on my TV," quipped comedian Chris Rock.
When the conversation shifted to domestic policy, the candidates scrambled to win over the middle class by showcasing their blue-collar roots. Biden, dubbed "Scranton Joe," strove for authenticity, but Ryan looked to discredit that image with economic facts.
"Do you know what the unemployment rate is in Scranton today?" Ryan asked the vice president. "Ten percent. You know what it was the day you guys came in? 8.5 percent. That is happening all around America."
And the Republican couldn't resist poking Biden for a history of verbal gaffes.
"I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way," Ryan said in defending Romney over his remarks that nearly half the country was dependent on the federal government. But Biden parried, "I always say what I mean."
For much of the night, Biden focused on the Ryan budget, a GOP blueprint which lays out conservatives' view of what the federal government should look like.
"They're holding hostage the middle-class tax cut to the super wealthy," Biden claimed, adding that Romney and Ryan were calling for a "different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street."
Romney has gained in the polls recently by casting doubt on the Democratic narrative that he's a corporate raider who cares more about the wealthy than ordinary Americans -- and his running mate continued to humanize the former Massachusetts governor.
"This is a man who gave 30 percent of his income to charity, ..." Ryan said. "Mitt Romney's a good man. He cares about 100 percent of Americans in this country."