The other contrast with the presidential debate was the absence of a clear winner. Romney was universally judged to have bested Obama in Denver, but Biden and Ryan each made their points with force and conviction. With the race tighter than it was two weeks ago, Thursday’s debate is not likely to result in a significant shift toward either Obama or Romney but is likely to raise the stakes when the two meet next week for their second forum.
Biden tried to dominate the debate and was a far more vigorous presence than the president last week. But he may have hurt his case by smiling sarcastically as Ryan made some of his points and interrupting repeatedly as the Wisconsin congressman defended his and Romney’s policies.
Biden repeatedly portrayed himself and Obama as protectors of the middle class while Ryan argued that the policies that he and Romney are advocating would do far more than the Obama administration would do to boost economic growth and help families whose incomes have flattened or declined in the past four years.
Biden attacked Romney for his recent characterization of the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes as people who consider themselves victims, arguing that it showed an insensitivity to the kinds of people he grew up with in Pennsylvania.
“I’ve had it up to here with this notion, that 47 percent,” he said. “It’s about time they take some responsibility here. And instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class, ‘We’re going to level the playing field.’ ”
At one point, he looked into a camera and said, “Look, folks. Use your common sense. Who do you trust?”
But Ryan argued that the administration’s policies have failed many of those same people. He noted that the unemployment rate in Biden’s home town of Scranton, Pa., is higher today than it was when Obama entered office.
“Look, did they come in and inherit a tough situation? Absolutely,” Ryan said. “But we’re going in the wrong direction. Look at where we are. The economy is barely limping along. It’s growing at 1.3 percent. That’s slower than it grew last year, and last year was slower than the year before. Job growth in September was slower than it was in August, and August was slower than it was in July.”