Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Revenge of the Biden

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

“This is like the Avengers, when the Hulk grabbed Loki and smashed him on the floor.”

I watched this debate in Chesapeake, Virginia, with a group of local Democrats, and it’s fair to say that they were excited by Vice President Biden’s performance in tonight’s debate. They cheered his jabs—“This is malarkey”—and cheered when he directly attacked Paul Ryan for his rhetoric.

In other words, if Biden’s job was to cover for President Obama and rebuild Democratic enthusiasm, then he accomplished it with flying colors. From foreign policy to Medicare to taxes and national security, Biden defended the administration’s policies and offered a strong retort to claims from Paul Ryan and the Romney campaign.

In This Corner...

Vice-presidential debates often make for better TV than the more sober presidential face-offs. (If you’re not convinced, take a look at the Prospect’s video compilation of the best moments from the VP debates.) There’s been nothing in a presidential debate to match the delightful absurdity of a candidate—in this case, Ross Perot’s addled running mate, Admiral James Stockdale—introducing himself to millions of viewers by posing the existential puzzler, “Why am I here?” There’s never been a slapdown in the main events to equal the iconic moment when Lloyd Bentsen punished Dan Quayle like a naughty schoolboy for likening himself to JFK.

Memo to Joe, Re: Debate

TO: VPOTUS

FROM: Robert Reich

RE: Debate

Beware: Paul Ryan will appear affable. He’s less polished and aggressive than Romney, even soft-spoken. And he acts as if he’s saying reasonable things.

But under the surface he’s a right-wing zealot. And nothing he says or believes is reasonable—neither logical nor reflecting the values of the great majority of Americans.

Your job is to smoke Ryan out, exposing his fanaticism. The best way to do this is to force him to take responsibility for the regressive budget he created as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Brown Versus Warren, Round III

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Unless you live in Massachusetts—or maybe even if you do—you probably missed the Elizabeth Warren/Scott Brown debate last night. That’s too bad, because it was a kick-ass debate—a model for political debates—run by Jim Madigan, from Springfield, Massachusetts’s public television station. (I know, I know—like Big Bird, he has to be careful, lest Romney fire him.) Here’s the truly groundbreaking part: Madigan actually moderated. He asked substantive questions about policy, drawn from those voters sent in. He kept the candidates to strict time schedules, giving them 20 seconds here and 5 seconds there, forcing them to articulate their beliefs quickly and crisply. He actually cut Brown off mid-sentence as Brown meandered around one point. Imagine that!

Will the Munger Kids Kill California's Schools?

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

America has the Koch brothers, and now California has the Munger kids. Unlike the rightwing Koches, Molly Munger and her brother Charles Jr. entered politics from opposite directions—she’s a liberal Democrat and a champion of inner-city schools; he’s an economic right-winger, a social moderate, and a Republican activist. But thanks to the vicissitudes of California politics and the self-absorption that wealth can bring (their father is Charles Munger, a Pasadena attorney and investor who is the longtime vice-chairman of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment consortium), they’ve come together in the past couple of days to attack the most important measure on the California ballot: Governor Jerry Brown’s initiative to raise taxes on the rich so that the state’s schools and colleges won’t take a massive fiscal hit immediately following the election.

Stuck in Second-Class Debate Gear

(AP Photo/Laura-Chase McGehee)

The 2012 election is the fifth straight presidential election to feature no third-party candidates in the debates—and as a result, there's also a lack of engagement with issues that the two major-party candidates don’t want to discuss.  

The debates are organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a 501(c)(3) organization created by the Democratic and Republican national committees and funded by corporate sponsors. This year, as usual, the commission extended invitations to only the Democratic and Republican candidates—much to the chagrin of third-party candidates and the handful of nonprofit organizations committed to including more voices in the debates.

Could the VP Debate Be a BFD?

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

If you find yourself moved to prepare for tonight's debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan by watching the 2008 vice-presidential debate, your first response will be, "Holy cow, I'd almost forgotten what a nincompoop Sarah Palin is." But after that, you'll be reminded that before he became the shirtless, Trans Am-washing guy so hilariously lampooned in The Onion, Biden was known as one of the most eloquent speakers in his party. He was well prepared for his meeting with Palin; not only did he talk fluidly about a range of issues, but he came armed with an array of factoids that he parceled out effectively and he was ready with practiced responses to most of Palin's criticisms of Obama. The verdict at the time may have been that Palin succeeded by being less than the complete disaster the McCain campaign feared she'd be, but Biden showed himself a more than capable debater.

Click Your Talking Points Together Three Times, and You're Home

The third Massachusetts Senate debate between Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren Wednesday night showed one thing: how good a debator any politician can be after three chances to say the same things.

Can Biden Stop The Bleeding?

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.

What's the Truth about True the Vote?

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Two years ago, the week before Election Day, I drove to Harris County, Texas. More specifically, I drove to the Acres Homes Multi-Service Center, a polling location for early voting in one of Houston’s poor, predominantly black neighborhoods. After alleging that Harris County had a widespread problem with voter fraud, a Tea Party group called the King Street Patriots had launched a project called True the Vote, which had trained hundreds of volunteer poll watchers. As the early voting period began, reports had begun to trickle out about white poll watchers arriving at minority precincts and intimidating voters. In Texas, poll watchers, appointed by a political party to watch the proceedings, aren’t allowed to do much; they’re barred from communicating with voters. But these poll watchers, foreign to the neighborhoods they were working in, were apparently not all observing the rules.

As I walked into the building, I asked one of the custodians how to spot the poll watchers. “Just look for the white people!” he told me. He said that he’d heard about people who were afraid to bring elderly relatives to vote because “first thing [they’d] be thinking about is 1960.”

The stories I wrote for The Texas Observer explained why voters could easily feel threatened: “Around the lines of voting booths, ramps into the building created a mini-balcony, from which two poll watchers looked down at the voters. Both older white men, they maintained a serious expression for the entirety of the two hours I was there. Sometimes they wandered amidst the voting booths. Since everything was crammed together, it wasn’t hard to imagine how one of the watchers could feel intrusive to a voter. There was barely room for people standing in their rows.”

Romney Lunges to the Center on Abortion

If there’s any one issue that is emblematic of Mitt Romney’s core malleability, it’s abortion. Over the last 16 years, Romney has called himself “unequivocablly pro-choice,” pro-life (but unwilling to change the status quo), “delighted” to sign a national abortion ban, eager to extend the 14th Amendment to unborn children, and willing to turn abortion over to the states. Yesterday, Romney made another transformation: In an interview, he told the Des Moines Register, “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”

Get Ready for Real Zingers

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Lack of proper preparation can be costly. That's one of the main lessons to be learned from the first presidential debate, with Romney taking a slight poll lead following his matchup with Obama last week.

In advance of Thursday's vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, the Prospect has been speaking with past debate stand-ins, the politicians campaigns select to act as their opponent during practice sessions. Yesterday we posted an interview with Jennifer Granholm about stepping into Sarah Palin's shoes to prep Joe Biden for his last appearance on the debate stage.

Scott Brown: Pro-Choice for Limiting Abortion Access

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Mitt Romney launched a new strategy to position himself as a moderate Republican during the first presidential debate, a move that has already reaped moderate successes in the polls. But, the strategy has a forerunner. Senator Scott Brown, the two-year Massachusetts incumbent facing a strong challenge from Democrat Elizabeth Warren, claimed the mantle of "Last Remaining Sane Republican" while Romney was still trying to outdo Rick Santorum in a contest of who had the least respect for women’s basic health care rights.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

It’s time to declare a national moratorium on Obama supporters watching poll numbers. Seriously: Nothing would do more to improve the nation’s collective mental health, right about now, than a mass tune-out of Nate Silver, Real Clear Politics, and every other outlet that spews and compiles and analyzes the data Obamians have taken to following with a maniacal and hysteria-inducing obsessiveness since last Wednesday's Worst Debate in the History of Mankind. 

Some Bounces Just Fade Away

The least interesting part of the latest Gallup poll is the fact that it shows Mitt Romney with a 2-point lead over President Obama among likely voters, 49 percent to 47 percent. Given the extent to which Gallup has shown a close race through most of the year, this was expected. What’s more interesting is the evidence, buried in the article, that Romney’s post-debate bounce was short-lived and is subsiding. Here’s the full range of post-debate polls among registered voters:

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