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Biden on policy, Ryan on style

In theory, vice presidential debates shouldn’t matter that much — only 18 percent in a recent Rasmussen Poll said it would be “very important” to their vote — and that’s the way it should be. Neither guy, one hopes, will be president and the basic task of each is to demonstrate, if disaster strikes, that he would be up to the job. Biden has proven before that he would be, and Thursday night Ryan seemed competent on a national stage.

Yet this particular debate did matter and especially for Biden. He had to stem the Mitt Romney surge that over the last week has remade this race. He may have helped slow it, but probably it hasn’t been reversed.

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In the presidential debate, Obama stayed above the fray. This time, Biden wallowed in it. He was full of bluster, interjections, inappropriate laughs and even — I think — a loud sigh or two. Oftentimes his interruptions seemed designed to trip up Ryan’s train of thought. It didn’t work. Ryan, taking his cue from Romney (and at times even seeming to channel his frozen smile from the presidential debate) came across as cool under Biden’s fire, far more controlled and far less mocking of his opponent. On style, it was Ryan’s win.

Yet Ryan was no match for the depth of experience projected by Biden. One telling moment was when Ryan referred to Israel’s prime minister as Benjamin Netanyahu. Biden called him “Bibi,” a long-time friend. Biden is steeped in public policy and his mastery showed. And Biden was more aggressive too, calling Ryan on his facts and — doubtless thrilling attack-starved Democrats — bringing up Romney’s “47 percent” remarks.

There’s only one vice presidential debate scheduled, but the two may well meet again. It’s conceivable both may be their respective party’s nominees in 2016.

Tom Keane writes regularly for the Globe.
He can be reached at
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