We all know that vice-presidential debates don't matter, or at least that's what we knew until last night. This one, however, may turn out to matter quite a bit, even if it doesn't produce any major movement in the polls, for two reasons. The first is the obvious one: it has already made despondent Democrats feel a lot better. They wanted to see their guy aggressively take on the other side, and that's exactly what they got. Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos probably spokr for most Democrats when he wrote, "Tonight felt great, didn't it?...we base liberals are happy again, which means we'll be productive bees because no matter what some of you claim, no one likes to work hard for the team that is 10 points down (or feels that way)."
Conservatives, on the other hand, are unanimous in their judgment that Biden was overbearing and mean. Last night on Fox, Brit Hume called him "a cranky old man." "Biden Bombed," reads the Fred Barnes piece on the Weekly Standard. "Classless Joe," says the National Review. They aren't completely wrong—Biden certainly interrupted Ryan more than was necessary, and could have dialed back the smiling and head-shaking a bit. But his unrelenting aggressiveness was just what Democrats wanted to see, and will no doubt spur President Obama to try to avoid looking somnolent by comparison.
The second reason the VP debate matters is that it sets the stage for the final two presidential debates in an important substantive way.