Vice presidential debates are usually mere sideshows. But tomorrow’s face-off in Kentucky might be quite different. Barack Obama’s disastrous performance last week was the boost Mitt Romney needed to erase the president’s post-convention gains and turn the race into a genuine toss-up. The Republican has the momentum, and he’s shifted to more moderate rhetoric in an attempt to appeal to independent and undecided voters. Obama doesn’t get another crack at Romney until next week, so it’s up to Joe Biden to stanch the bleeding and resuscitate Democratic hopes.
Biden has a reputation for blundering, but history suggests that he’ll be up to the task. This is the man, after all, who managed to destroy Rudy Giuliani’s presidential hopes with a single phrase—“a noun, a verb, and 9/11”—and was a more-than-capable debater in the Democratic primaries and against Sarah Palin. His populist style connects with a wide swath of voters; his Democratic National Convention speech was widely watched and widely praised.
It should help that Team Obama understands the importance of tomorrow’s performance, and is surely working feverishly to put Biden at the top of his game for the match-up against Paul Ryan. It’s easy to see Ryan as too inexperienced to fare well, but the Wisconsin congressman has proven adept so far in the national spotlight. Odds are good that he will make excellent use of the down-home earnestness that—along with his reputation for braininess—defines his political persona. But he'll have to counter Biden's sure-to-be aggressive attempts to paint him as a wealth-first radical.
If Biden can score a victory, it could have a sizable effect on the presidential race. He won’t convince Republican voters of anything, but he will give confidence and inspiration to Democrats. And a new burst of enthusiasm is exactly what his party needs.
So They Say
“I had a different reaction to that first debate than a lot of people did. I mean, I thought, ‘Wow! Here’s old Moderate Mitt. Where you been, boy, I missed you all these last two years!’”
Daily Meme: Bigger, Stronger, Faster Mitt
- Ever since last week's presidential debate, Mitt Romney has pretended the past five years of running for president as a "severe conservative" have been but a bad dream, treating pesky reporters like addlepated chumps while he goes along his merry moderate way.
- Picking a fight with his own campaign website, Mitt Romney told the Des Moines Register yesterday, “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda."
- The about-face has everyone confused—even his spokesperson.
- His tough stance on contraception has also softened.
- He also doesn't remember all these tax breaks for high-income earners “you guys” keep bringing up. His tax plan is all about the middle-class!
- Romney used to be fervently anti-Dodd-Frank, but in Wednesday's debate, he said, "Look, we have to have regulation on Wall Street."
- Teachers and Romneycare are no longer the unmentionable scourges they used to be either.
- And that 47 percent video? Let's just write that off as Romney's little "oops" moment.
- Andrew Rosenthal sums up the significance of the big pivot neatly: "While we may be confused about the Real Romney, there is no confusion about the Republican Party. There’s no reason to think they would tolerate Moderate Mitt in the Oval Office, or that Mr. Romney would even ask them to."
What We're Writing
- Abby Rapoport: What's the reality behind the much-hyped "voting integrity" group True the Vote?
- Amanda Marcotte: In tonight's Massachusetts Senate debate, Scott Brown will claim to support reproductive rights. His record suggests otherwise.
What We're Reading
- Obama blames his debate performance on excessive good manners.
- Slate plots the biggest moments of the 2012 campaign season on a graph so you can distinguish the shiny objects from the “stuff that actually matters.”
- Funny or Die imagines what Joe Biden's debate to-do list might look like.
- Jimmy Fallon wonders what it's like in "Mister Romney's Neighborhood."
- Why have Suffolk University’s pollsters prematurely called three battleground states for Romney?
- Richard Just dishes out some much-needed common sense about how punditry is messing with our effectiveness in picking presidential candidates.
Poll of the Day
Colorado’s pro-pot initative, which would legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, is riding high (sorry!), with a ten-point edge in a new University of Denver poll. A marijuana measure in Washington State looks almost sure to pass as well; it’s favored by 57 to 33 percent.