The vice presidential debate, by the numbers

October 12, 2012

The one and only vice presidential debate is in the books a day after Vice President Biden and Republican challenger Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) squared off over Libya, Medicare, Iran, taxes, abortion and a host of other issues during a 90-minute sparring session in Danville, Ky.

Unlike last week’s debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, there didn't appear to be a clear-cut winner in the minds of viewers, as snap polls from CBS and CNN revealed a split. The post-debate wrangling over which side entered Friday morning with more momentum will rage all day, but in the meantime below is a look at a few figures from Thursday’s debate that mattered (Missed the debate? Check out the complete transcript here and watch the debate in two minutes below): 

* 30 (The number of times Biden and Ryan mentioned the word "Medicare"): This is the issue Ryan is asked about everywhere he goes. The Republican's budget plan that revamps Medicare as a voucher system for Americans 55 and under has been a top target of Democratic attack ads this cycle. Ryan made a personal pitch on Thursday night for reforming Medicare, which he said is “going bankrupt.”

“My mom and I had my grandmother move in with us who was facing Alzheimer’s. Medicare was there for her, just like it’s there for my mom right now who is a Florida senior,” Ryan said.

Biden mentioned Medicare 16 times to Ryan’s 14. He played plenty of offense, saying the GOP “ideas are old, and their ideas are bad, and they eliminate the guarantee of Medicare.”

* “47 percent” (Romney’s controversial comment during a May fundraiser): Unlike the Obama-Romney debate, the Republican presidential candidate’s remark came up in Thursday’s debate. Biden was the first to raise it, and Ryan appeared to come prepared with a rebuttal.

“And with respect to that quote, I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way,” Ryan said.

Biden responded: “The idea -- if you heard that -- that little soliloquy on 47 percent, and you think he just made a mistake, then I think you’re -- I -- I think -- I got a bridge to sell you.”

* 53 (The number of times Romney’s name came up): If vice presidential debates are supposed to be about attacking/praising the presidential candidates, then both candidates stuck to the script. Notably though, Obama’s name was mentioned less often (30 times).

* 3 (The number of times Biden uttered the word “malarkey”): Early in the debate, Biden dismissed Ryan’s foreign policy points as a "bunch of malarkey." Later, in one of the debate’s lighter moments, Biden retorted a Ryan statement by calling it a “bunch of stuff.”

What did he mean by that, asked moderator Martha Raddatz?

“We Irish call it malarkey,” Biden said.

* 14 (The number of times Biden referred to his opponent as "my friend"): It’s not likely these two will be making plans to get together in their leisure time, but Biden repeatedly referred to Ryan as "my friend" during Thursday’s debate.

* 4 (The number of times each candidate mentioned “abortion”): A discussion of social issues wasn't the focus of this debate, but toward the end, both candidates briefly weighed in on abortion. Biden said he accepted the Catholic Church’s position on the issue, but noted his refusal "to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here.”

Ryan’s take: “All I’m saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.”

Read more from PostPolitics:

The art of not losing: Biden, Ryan can walk away feeling fine

Winners and losers from the vice presidential debate

Biden seeks to repair damage from Obama's stumble

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Aaron Blake | October 12, 2012