Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

The role of Biden in the debate debacle

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 In the days following the presidential debate Democrats have struggled to explain Obama’s strange behavior. SNL used the Reverend Al Sharpton to promote three theories: altitude sickness, jet lag, and freaky Wednesday where the President and Romney switched bodies in pre-debate greetings. More realistic and less-humorous excuses have also been thrown around, however, it seems pointless to discuss the reasons why Obama chose not to debate his opponent because he has already paid the political price. The latest Pew Research Center poll conducted from Thursday through Sunday of last week shows Romney leading Obama 49% to 45%. Technically that is a 12-point swing for Obama. Even in important swing states like Michigan his lead dropped from 10 percentage points to 3 according to the EPIC-MRA of Lansing poll. reported 2% of voters changed their vote from Obama to Romney based solely on last Wednesday’s performance. It is safe to say debates matter for a certain group of voters and until Oct. 16 Obama is stuck in the shadow of his pitiful performance.

There is only one hope until then and that is Vice President Joe Biden. The question is whether or not vice presidential debates matter in the grand scheme of the election, and moreover is Biden capable of making a comeback for President Obama? Some  Democrats have hope, while others seem less than enthusiastic since Biden’s career is filled with verbal blunders.

It is imperative for Biden to be on the ball. Former strategist for Bill Clinton and Al Gore, Chris Lehane, stated:

“Joe Biden needs to go back to the effective organizing principle of the Obama campaign. He needs to be the aggressor, keep the foot on the gas. It’s like you’re going up a hill. The moment you take your foot off the gas pedal, gravity is going to start pulling you down in the opposite direction.”

Biden has never been shy on the campaign trail, however he will have to be especially vibrant to make up for Obama’s performance. Democrats are looking for Biden to bring up the “47%” controversy, Bain Capital, or at least Romney’s tax returns, which failed to be mentioned in the first debate. He is going to have to play the offense and attack the Republican stances. Paul Begala, senior adviser for a pro-Obama super PAC advises Biden to “attack the Romney-Ryan plan to cut taxes for the rich and raise them on the middle class.” He continues, “dissect the Romney-Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it. Point out that if Romney had been president, Osama bin Laden would be alive and GM would be dead. And be prepared to body-slam Ryan when–not if–he fibs.” These are strong words, but there is no doubt they are being echoed by slightly unnerved Obama supporters.


However, historically, vice presidential debates have had little impact on the outcome of the race. For instance, the notable debate between Sen. Lloyed Bentsen’s 1998 and George H. W. Bush’s running mate Sen. Dan Quayle, where Bentsen told Quayle he is “no Jack Kennedy” did nothing to stop Dukakis from being crushed on Election Day. Mr.Quayle recalls now, “It was a good line for him. Did it move the needle? No.” Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California, Patrick James, points out few voters will vote for a ticket because of the vice presidential candidate. Rarely do vice presidential debates have a significant impact, but they can increase momentum for the ticket who won the first debate or a “circuit breaker,” as Democratic strategist Tad Devine calls it, for the losing ticket from the first debate.

What is worse for Biden, is that many vice presidential debates are remembered for their gaffes and one-liners, and Biden has made a few memorable ones in his day. For instance, retired Adm. James B. Stockdale, Independent Ross Perot’s running mate, is still recalled or his failed “Who am I? Why am I here” misguided opening statement. All this is not to say that Ryan could not fall into traps of his own. Just as Romney did in the first debate, Ryan will have to convey a readiness to lead the country. He will also have to be careful not to appear to young or inexperienced compared to Biden, or be too much of a “numbers guy” and do off on a budget tangent. There is little argument that Americans would even be half as intrigued as they are for this week’s debate if not for Obama’s mess up. Whether or not Biden and Paul will keep their interest is another story entirely.



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