The candidates are not only scrutinizing each other’s past speeches and issue positions but also their recent appearances. After Biden’s blistering critique of the GOP ticket in Iowa, Ryan studied a transcript of the event. Biden’s preparation also has included reviewing video of Ryan interviews and speeches.
One Romney aide said that the presidential debate did little to change the substance of Ryan’s debate preparations “except that he needs to be even more prepared for a really aggressive tone and tenor from the vice president.”
“I think given the criticisms of the president for not attacking on the ‘47 percent’ or on Bain Capital, I think we can expect some of that,” said the aide, who was not authorized to speak publicly about Ryan’s preparations.
An Obama campaign official said that like the president, Biden views the upcoming debate “as an opportunity to speak directly to the American people about what’s at stake for the middle class in this election.”
“Congressman Ryan, on the other hand, has a choice to make Thursday: either stand by the extreme positions he’s been the face of for years — and that Governor Romney has fully embraced — like turning Medicare into a voucher program and cutting taxes for the wealthiest few at the expense of the middle class, or flat-out deny their existence as Governor Romney did in last week’s debate,” said the official, who like the Romney aide was not authorized to speak publicly about debate strategy.
As during Biden’s face-off four years ago against former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R), there’s also the matter of the age and stature gap between the two candidates. Biden is 69, has run for president twice and served in the Senate for 36 years. Ryan is 42, has served in the House for 14 years and will make his first appearance on the national debate stage on Thursday in Danville, Ky.
Both sides sought to downplay the importance of that gap ahead of the debate. Democrats noted that Biden succeeded in navigating it four years ago, while Republicans pointed out that Ryan has served on the Hill for seven terms.
“Congressman Ryan and Sen. Biden were colleagues on Capitol Hill for many years,” said one Romney aide. “I know Congressman Ryan considers the vice president a friend.”
In addition to Obama’s debate performance, there’s also the matter of two recent remarks by Biden on the trail – his statement on Tuesday that the middle class has been “buried for the last four years,” and his comment Thursday that he and Obama would allow the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy to expire — which Republicans have seized in an effort to cast the vice president as an ineffective messenger.
“Joe Biden’s kind of become the Joe Pesci of the presidential ticket,” said Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who stumped last week on behalf of the GOP ticket in Colorado. “You never know what’s going to come out of his mouth. This comment that he said earlier this week on burying the middle class — I don’t think that’s exactly the shovel-ready job that Barack Obama was thinking of — but the vice president’s right. That’s exactly what’s happened.”
Some Democrats dismiss the notion that the stakes are raised for Biden — and counter that the onus is on Ryan not only to defend Romney, but also to prove that he himself is ready for prime time.
“I think the pressure in my book is on Paul Ryan, because he’s got to demonstrate that he has what it takes to be president of the United States,” said Democratic strategist Doug Thornell. “We know he can work a calculator and a budget — not that the numbers add up — but there’s a lot of other qualities that he hasn’t demonstrated.”
House Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), another close ally of Ryan’s, said that while his colleague had “led the House in a very able way . . . leading in a legislative body is one thing; leading with 60 million people looking at him is another.”
“Who knows who’s ever ready for that stage?” Roskam said. “I think that there’s hopes on Paul Ryan. There’s expectations on Joe Biden.”