The debate is over, the cheers and jeers have subsided and before going on the air tomorrow there are a few key things to be pointed out about last night’s debate. Because of the short time between this VP adventure and Obama v.s. Romney round 2 next week these narratives may be temporary but they’re important for the weekend’s talking points.
What They Needed to Do
With Democrats shaking in their boots after Obama’s debate performance last week I asked a seasoned Democratic strategist I know, Wyeth Ruthven at Qorvis Communications, exactly what it was that Joe Biden needed to do tonight. Here’s what he had to say:
“Joe Biden is like Steve Nash. He doesn’t need a slam dunk in this debate, he needs to put the ball in the air so President Obama can dunk it next week.”
I would say that after tonight we are now seeing the slow-motion of Obama coming down on Biden’s lob right on the basket, ready to posterize Mitt Romney on Tuesday. Biden did a masterful job of laying out the main attacking points against the Republican Party. All Obama has to do is take this ball and run with it next week at the townhall. Since that format allows for a lot less direct attacks and exchanges between the candidates Obama can spout all the talking points that Joe mentioned and not have to counter Romney at all. Good set up. Did the VP fib a little? Definitely (I think it’s pretty clear that the Libyan embassy asked for more support prior to the attack and didn’t get it) But overall he caught Ryan in more truth stretching than the other way around. Ryan was backpedalling all night on every issue except for Libya and that’s exactly what the Democrats wanted out of this debate. The Republicans had much less to worry about. Ryan is the more popular member of their ticket anyway, and Mitt showed last week that he’s more than capable of standing up to Obama on his own. Ryan didn’t help the GOP at all (and he said some doozies about scaling back troops and Medicare that will be on-line within hours) but he didn’t have the sword of Damocles over his head all week either.
What You’re Going to Hear
You’re going to hear in various places that this debate was a tie, or that Joe Biden’s sneer annoyed people or various other fake narratives. Ignore them, they aren’t true. This was a good old fashioned beat-down in a run down Scranton YMCA. Half the time I couldn’t tell if Ryan was taking sips of water from his cup or spitting his teeth into it because Biden was hitting him so hard. The two biggest post debate polls right now are CNN which had Ryan winning 48% to 44% for Biden and CBS showing 50% say Biden won, with 31% for Ryan and 19% saying a tie. While poll trutherism has become the latest hobby for many a political pundit I can say unequivocably that the CBS poll is going to be more in line with most post – debate polls than CNN. Why? First, the most aggressive debater almost always wins. Second, CNN polled those who watched the debate, CBS polled “Undecided Voters”. As much as I doubt the existence of many undecided voters in this election, I still think that’s a better pool to poll than a self-selected group of debate watchers, most of whom have already made up their minds before the first statement is made.
Does it Really Matter?
Because this debate takes place on a Thursday, and we have the weekend to talk about baseball, and then turn right around to next Tuesday it’s hard to see where this debate will make any really difference empirically. The Vice President is not being voting for, it’s the top of the ticket, so I just don’t see this changing the numbers for anyone, in any state at all. However, what we might see is an uptick in Democratic enthusiasm, with big Dem supporters finally getting the debate that they always wanted. A feisty toe to toe brawl over the major issues of the day, with some guts. And to think that Osama bin Laden was only mentioned once! If there are any shifts in the polls nationally or state-wide, they will favor Obama since Biden mentioned the president a lot more than Ryan mentioned Romney, but ultimately this just increases the stakes in Tuesday. No pressure Mitt, but you have to follow up your performance last week or you could see your bump recede. And Obama, only you can save this thing now, Joe just lobbed the rock from half-court, now all you have to do is launch from the top of the key and finish the dunk. We’ll see what happens next Tuesday.