It’s too soon to tell whether it will make any difference in the election, but interest in Thursday’s already anticipated vice presidential debate was ratcheted up a notch by what political watchers and viewers scored as a decisive victory by Mitt Romney in Denver.
Romney’s performance in the first presidential debate appears to have steadied a campaign thought to be floundering in key swing states like Ohio. After several days to parse the meeting between Romney and President Barack Obama, the tilt between Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has taken on heightened significance, if not actual importance to the election’s outcome.
Now the focus shifts to the Newlin Hall stage where Biden and Ryan will square off on Thursday.
Henry has been following the president around the country, but also has paid close attention to the growing malaise among Republicans. He said he has spoken with some large Republican donors who had become so dissatisfied by the trajectory of the Romney ticket they were considering redirecting their contributions toward trying to pick up seats in Congress.
“When you have a debate where the unexpected happens — and few thought Romney would win so decisively against President Obama — it raises the stakes for the next debate,” writes Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia and director of the UVA Center for Politics. “Republicans will be looking to Paul Ryan to keep the momentum going, and Democrats will hope Joe Biden can restore some debate balance.”
Experts are still finding plenty to sort through in the aftermath of the first presidential debate.
Centre government professor Benjamin Knoll said independent fact-checkers largely scored the debate as a win for Obama based on accuracy of the facts and figures the candidates gave, while Romney clearly won a resounding victory in the realm of public opinion based on his confident, aggressive performance.
Knoll said Romney seemed to be touting his moderate bona fides during much of the debate, ostensibly to appeal to the undecided voters in the remaining battleground states. He thinks the former Massachusetts governor also needs to be mindful of a base that may not show up if they feel he is skewing to far to the left.
The most recent poll numbers Friday from the Real Clear Politics average of presidential polls indicate Obama is still up by about 3 points. It is still too early to detect the full extent of any debate bounce for Romney in most of the major tracking polls.
Knoll doesn’t think it’s likely Romney’s showing would have an impact on the election in the long run, predicting a 1 percent bump heading into this week. He thinks Romney would need a similar outcome in both of the remaining debates in addition to other outside factors to make the election a toss-up.
In the short term, expectations are mounting for how each side will approach the vice presidential debate and how much influence Romney and Obama’s first meeting will have. Stephen Voss, a professor of political science at the University of Kentucky, knows Democrats smarting in the aftermath of what they view as the disappointment in Denver want Biden to give as good as he gets Thursday.
“A lot of Democrats are upset Barack Obama wasn’t more aggressive,” Voss said. “They wanted more of a bare-knuckled debating approach. The next chance to get meaner is the vice presidential debate.”
Pundits have grasped for explanations of how someone regarded as a commanding public speaker like Obama fell so flat. Voss said there may be other factors, including inflated expectations, that contributed to the perceived let down.
Obama’s camp, Voss said, has actively tried to avoid cultural stereotypes of an angry African-American male when prepping him for appearances like the debate. Although he doesn’t know if the frequently grinning Biden can switch on his inner enforcer, or whether it’s prudent, Voss believes the angry white man is given more license.
Ryan is widely seen as one of his party’s leading intellectual lights who should be game for a dust up with the gaffe-prone Biden. Voss, though, said the Congressman comes with his own baggage as a candidate and carries his own set of risks.
“Like Barack Obama, Ryan comes into the debate with the reputation of being good at this sort of thing,” Voss said. “Like Obama, I don’t think he’s half as good as his reputation.”
The added drama created by last week’s presidential debate all but guarantees a large audience for the show in Danville. But it remains to be seen whether the hype will translate into debate night moments with the potential to shift a close election.
“I imagine that the Romney campaign will hope to build on this positive media attention with a strong showing by Congressman Ryan here in Danville next week,” Knoll said. “Positive campaign momentum from one debate can easily screech to a halt with a poor showing in the next debate. It’s possible that Ryan and Vice President Biden might be asked to follow up on budget and taxing issues from the first debate, since Ryan is widely perceived to be one of the GOP budget experts in the House of Representatives.”
Political analyst Kyle Kondick, a colleague of Sabato’s at the Center for Politics, agrees Biden will probably try to be more forceful than Obama was — Kondick noted how easy that will be — and attempt to zing Ryan on his budget proposal.
Despite the best efforts of both sides to make each other’s vice presidential candidate a liability, though, Kondick said it probably won’t hold major importance in November. The election, he believes, “is almost exclusively about the names at the top of the ticket.”