Vice presidential debate could be a tale of two Ryans

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida Wed Oct 10, 2012 2:45pm EDT

Vice President Joe Biden (R) speaking in Charlotte, North Carolina September 6, 2012, and Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, speaking in Tampa, Florida, August 29, 2012, are shown in this combination photo. U.S. vice presidential debates usually don't matter much, but the October 11 showdown between Democratic incumbent Joe Biden and Republican challenger Paul Ryan could be an exception. Democrats are counting on Biden to blunt the momentum of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has gained ground after a strong debate performance against President Barack Obama last week. REUTERS/Mike Segar (L)/Jason Reed (R)

Vice President Joe Biden (R) speaking in Charlotte, North Carolina September 6, 2012, and Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, speaking in Tampa, Florida, August 29, 2012, are shown in this combination photo. U.S. vice presidential debates usually don't matter much, but the October 11 showdown between Democratic incumbent Joe Biden and Republican challenger Paul Ryan could be an exception. Democrats are counting on Biden to blunt the momentum of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has gained ground after a strong debate performance against President Barack Obama last week.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar (L)/Jason Reed (R)

Related Topics

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) - Republican Congressman Paul Ryan is a changed man.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate made a name for himself as a bold fiscal crusader, willing to make big, unpopular cuts to entitlements to get U.S. finances in order.

But since Romney tapped him in August to join his campaign, the vice presidential candidate has become more prudent, avoiding detailed discussion of his budget plan and earning the nickname "mini-Mitt" for displaying a cautious streak like his boss.

For Vice President Joe Biden, a major question heading into his debate with Ryan in Kentucky on Thursday is "a choice of which Ryan we're going to see," a Biden adviser said.

Instead of promoting his own budget plan, which includes caps on future Medicare spending, Ryan is talking up Romney's more voter-friendly version, which has no spending limits, at campaign events.

"The vice president has been studying up on (Ryan's) real positions and is prepared to call him out on his actual positions," said the adviser.

The adviser warned that Biden will be on the lookout for what he called "dishonesty" by Ryan, part of the Obama campaign's strategy to accuse its Republican rivals of bending the facts in the final stretch of the election campaign.

The stakes are high for Biden, who is charged with righting a listing ship after President Barack Obama's disastrous first debate against Romney in Denver last week, which lost him the momentum in polls ahead of the November 6 election.

Democrats have targeted Ryan's budget, a severe series of spending cuts, as proof that he would hurt seniors and the middle class.

One top Republican strategist said the best way for Biden to battle his opponent is to tease out the "wonky" Ryan, the congressman who loves mind-numbing fiscal details.

"If I was prepping against Ryan, I would be looking for issues that Romney and Ryan disagree on and try and pull out Ryan the wonk, as opposed to Ryan the running mate," the strategist said.

That would turn off television viewers not used to detailed policy arguments, and could give Biden a chance to paint the Republican team as holding different positions on Medicare.

The Romney campaign has worked overtime to emphasize that House Budget Committee chairman Ryan has fallen in line with the presidential candidate on fiscal issues.

"You have to remember this is a Romney-Ryan ticket, and there's one presidential candidate, there's one person at the top of the ticket," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told reporters on Tuesday.

Ryan met staff to discuss the debate and other issues at a hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida on Wednesday morning before flying to Kentucky later in the day.

NO RYAN DOCTRINE

An image of Ryan as a congenial Midwesterner rather than a congressional budget hawk has been enhanced on the campaign trail, where he has worked to build a reputation for an easy manner with voters.

Much was made in the media of Ryan cutting short an interview this week with a local television reporter whose questions he did not like, but the Wisconsin congressman was in good spirits immediately after the interview, and did not storm off as was suggested.

Economic issues aside, Ryan is clearly taking his lead from Romney on foreign policy, a weak spot for the 42-year-old congressman against Biden, who spent more than 10 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In Ohio on Monday, Ryan echoed much of the language and themes that the former Massachusetts governor laid out in an attack on Obama's handling of world events during a speech at the Virginia Military Institute.

"The president is not offering the kind of spirited and principled leadership we need to create jobs here at home or to keep us safe," Ryan said.

At a rally, he pressed home criticism of Obama over the killing of four Americans in Libya, a favorite foreign policy attack line of Romney.

Ryan told voters to just turn on their televisions: "You will likely see the failures of the Obama foreign policy unfolding before our eyes," Ryan said. "You see if you look around the world, what we are witnessing is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy."

Leading up to Thursday's debate, Ryan retreated to Florida to prepare, spending Tuesday morning focused on policy briefings before switching to debate prep.

Ryan aides in recent days have begun the typical campaign ritual of playing up your opponent before a debate, portraying Biden as a seasoned professional.

"Vice President Biden has done 18 presidential or VP debates over the years - 14 in 2008," said one Ryan aide. "He's always a focused debater. It's not a setting in which he makes gaffes."

Brendan Buck, a Ryan spokesman, noted that Thursday night will be Ryan's "first time on the big stage."

"After the president's performance last week, we know Joe Biden will (be) coming at us like a cannonball," Buck said.

(Reporting By Sam Youngman; editing by Alistair Bell and David Storey)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (56)
Ollerus wrote:
I’m sorry Reuters, but those of us in the middle who’ve yet to make up our minds won’t be doing it based on the bottom of the ticket. It’s not that I could care less about who the VP is (obviously a heartbeat away) but it’s the Presidential candidate’s views we care most about. Good job trying to beat Ryan down tho, shows your bias nicely. For the rest of us who will be deciding America’s future, thankfully we’re a bit smarter than this.

Oct 09, 2012 10:55pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
flashrooster wrote:
Ollerus: If you’re so smart and in the middle, then why are you bothered by Reuters pointing out the duplicity of the Romney/Ryan ticket? Certainly you’re not denying that they’ve presented themselves with different policies at different times. Would you prefer that no one notices that? If Ryan follows in Romney’s footsteps, then by the time the VP debate is over we should have at least 3 Ryans.

Romney and Ryan have no shame. By the time election day rolls around no one will really be sure what they’re voting for if they decide to vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket. It seems clear to me that Romeny and Ryan’s strategy is to say whatever it takes to win and then they’ll govern the way they’re dictated to by the Republican Congress and the wealthy plutocrats who are REALLY running the show. Like Grover Norquist said:

“Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States. This is a change for Republicans: the House and Senate doing the work with the president signing bills. His job is to be captain of the team, to sign the legislation that has already been prepared.”
Grover Norquist

Considering that the Republicans have signed pledges to Mr. Norquist, which seems to trump their pledge to serve the people of the United States, I’d say Grover Norquist will get his way IF we’re stupid enough to elect Romney President.

Oct 09, 2012 11:19pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
ixlr82often wrote:
No one has bothered to mention that Joe Biden had to drop out of the 1988 Presidential race for habitual plagiarism. So there is you r basis.

Oct 09, 2012 11:55pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.