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Stakes get higher in upcoming Biden-Ryan debate

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 - 12:42pm

A former senator vs. a congressman. A Catholic vs. a Catholic. A policy wonk vs. an experienced speaker. The elements are in place for an interesting debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan.

And Sunday marked Round II of the expectations game, as campaign advisers and surrogates sought to set the stage for Thursday's showdown.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus argued that while Ryan is known as a "smart" guy and will do a "great job," the vice president is no stranger to the debate spotlight, given his 36 years as a senator and two presidential runs.

"Joe Biden is a gifted orator. He is very good at rhetoric, and I think is he very relatable," Priebus said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

"They are very two different people. And I think it's going to be a great night."

The two opposing running mates face off for their first and only debate at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.

With Mitt Romney widely recognized as the winner of last week's debate -- the first of three match-ups for the presidential candidates -- some speculated Sunday whether the pressure was on Biden to blunt Romney's momentum and steal the mantle for the Democratic ticket.

"A lot of people will be tuning in to see how Vice President Biden tries to make up for the president's belly flop last week," CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Ryan himself said in an interview there's "more pressure" this week, and he expects Biden to launch at him like a "cannon ball."

"Because of the president's terrible performance, because Mitt Romney did such a good job of giving the country a choice, they don't have a choice but to have Joe Biden come at me," Ryan said in an interview that aired Sunday on Milwaukee radio station WTMJ.

Others argued Biden could be facing orders from within his own team to unleash his inner attack dog, a role Biden knows all too well from the campaign trail.

"I am sure that Vice President Biden got a phone call from the White House, and said, you know, 'Look, we didn't go after Governor Romney as much and so you have to turn up the heat,'" Brett O'Donnell, a former debate coach for Mitt Romney, said on Fox News.

Democrats disappointed with President Barack Obama's performance last week roundly criticized him for playing defense rather than offense. In the following days, Obama's campaign argued Romney was dishonest on stage and pledged that the president would be ready to pounce during the next debate on October 16.

"I think he was a little taken aback at the brazenness with which Gov. Romney walked away from so many of the positions on which he's run, walked away from his record," Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

He said the positions Romney took during Wednesdays debate were "uprooted" from the Republican candidate's previous positions.

"That's something we're going to have to make an adjustment for in these subsequent debates," Axelrod added.

Until then, however, it's up to Biden to gain control of the debate reins, another Obama adviser said.

"Vice President Biden is used to this. He's been in public life a long time and he's used to debates. Look, I think he just has to go out there and prosecute the same case the president was prosecuting," Obama campaign senior adviser Robert Gibbs told CNN.

While the vice president is known for making gaffes, Republicans -- trying to set the bar high -- say Biden will likely be more focused on the debate stage. The then-senator was widely applauded for his debate performances during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries.

"He's a very disciplined person when he speaks in these kinds of situations. He doesn't produce gaffes in these moments," Ryan told Fox News last week, adding that he's not "counting on" Biden's making a mistake.

Asked Sunday on Air Force One if the stakes are higher for Biden than Ryan this week, an Obama campaign spokeswoman said "no" and turned the spotlight on Romney's running mate.

"The question for Congressman Ryan is, will he go to the debate and stand for the policies that he and Mitt Romney have been advocating for," Jen Psaki said. "Or will he, as Mitt Romney did last week, hide from his policies and be dishonest about what he represents. So we don't know the answer to that, and we'll see later this week."

Political observers note the House Budget Committee chairman will likely be targeted for his controversial budget plan, which among other things calls for major changes to Medicare.

Gibbs, in fact, said the vice president and president plan to be "vigorous" in their attack on the Romney-Ryan plan in the coming weeks, a plan Gibbs said consists of "the very same economic ideas that got us into this mess four years ago."

Analysts argue Ryan, a statistics junkie, will likely be well prepared on the policy side. When it comes to style, however, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a former presidential candidate known for his debate skills, told CNN that the Wisconsin congressman should play up his roots as a way to relate to the audience watching the debate on TV.

"I think he has to be more Wisconsin than wonk, he can be both," Gingrich told CNN on Sunday, adding that Ryan comes across as "somebody who really understands the Midwest."

Another dynamic to watch for Thursday could be the two candidates' shared religious values. For the first time in U.S. history, both tickets include a Catholic. While both Ryan and Biden proudly talk about their background on the campaign trail, observers note that the nearly 30-year age gap between the two will perhaps be a more visible element on the stage Thursday.

Earlier on NBC's "Meet the Press," Gingrich said he anticipates Ryan to acknowledge the "generational difference" with his opponent.

"I suspect he is going to be respectful of Biden," the former speaker said. "There is a generational difference here that I think will lead Ryan to not give an inch, but to not be very hostile."

A recent CNN/ORC International poll found that 55% of likely voters thought Ryan will fare better in the debate, while 39% said Biden will win.

The two have stepped up their attacks against each other on the campaign trail in recent weeks. Biden has taken aim at Ryan's budget plan, saying it could hit seniors with more taxes to their Social Security benefits. In Ohio last week, Ryan hit back, saying Obama and Biden were the real threats to health and retirement programs

"In fact, Joe Biden himself voted to raise taxes on Social Security benefits, and as a senator, President Obama voted to keep those tax increases in place three times," Ryan said at a campaign event, defending his plan that would offer a subsidized version of Social Security.

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