It is emblematic of the difference between the vice presidential nominees that, on the last Sunday of the campaign, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was sent to a blue state tipping red (Minnesota), where he drew a crowd of 9,000, while Vice President Biden could draw only 1,000 or so at each of two events in a 2008 blue state (Colorado) — albeit one that is likely going for Mitt Romney this time. Ryan is a net plus for the Romney-Ryan ticket with independent voters, while Biden has become a punch line.

In fact, in a campaign strewn with real and imaginary “gaffes,” Ryan is the only one of the four major-party nominees who isn’t associated with one of these cringe moments. He has lived up to his billing as a disciplined candidate.

Ryan’s appeal is not geographic, although he is being used to good effect in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Rather, it is that he magnifies the serious tone of a ticket that is closing on a theme of “big things” and “real change.” Nowhere is the gap in messaging more apparent than in the contrast between the older Biden and the young Ryan.

Biden’s debate antics were the last act of an old-school pol, full with theatrics and, yes, “malarkey.” For better or worse, the exaggerated mannerisms, bullying demeanor and jokey attitude is becoming a thing of the past. PowerPoint is in; “my mother, God bless her” is fading from the political vocabulary.

Unfortunately for Obama, Biden has only reinforced the sense that his ticket is about the status quo, the last defense of the Great Society and a pre-Clinton Democratic Party that is hostile to the free market, indifferent to the adverse consequences of higher marginal tax rates and unshakable in its conviction that bigger government is better government.

Whatever the result tomorrow, it is hard to say Biden is the future of the Democratic Party. (If he is, the party is in far worse shape than we imagine.) Ryan, however, with his congenial demeanor and determination to reform the federal government before it drags the economy under the wave of fiscal disaster, is and will be one of the shining lights for the GOP. For that, the conservative movement owes Romney a debt of gratitude.