Biden may have a tendency to misspeak when fired up by crowds, but he doesn’t tend to put his foot in his mouth during debates. And while a Biden gaffe during the debate might fire up Twitter, an inability on Ryan’s part to clarify the Romney ticket’s policies would ultimately be more damaging.
“This is a debate that’s not going to be about Biden’s gaffes and Ryan’s marathon times,” said Samuel L. Popkin, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and author of The Candidate: What it Takes to Win (and Hold) the White House. “It’s going to be about who’s kidding who,” he said, and who’s got the best plan for the country.
Popkin said that a vice presidential candidate’s main debate goal is to advocate for the principal’s policies and reassure voters that, should the worst befall the president, the country would be in good hands. If the vice presidential candidate emerges from the debates as the star of the show, that's a problem, he said.
The American people know that Biden may not always say the right thing, but he speaks from the heart, Kaufman said. “His great strength is that people look at him and say, ‘I’ll tell you one thing about Joe Biden: He’ll tell you what he thinks.’ ”
During the Biden-Palin debate, Biden was able to deal a body blow to Palin’s perceived advantage: her down-home, mother-of-five persona.
“You’ve been very kind suggesting that my only Achilles heel is my lack of discipline,” Biden said, responding to a question about his weakness. “Others talk about my excessive passion. I’m not going to change.”
In typical fashion, Biden didn’t stop there. He went on to talk about his hardscrabble childhood and the car crash that claimed the lives of his first wife and baby daughter and badly wounded his sons.
“I understand what it’s like to sit around a kitchen table and have a father who says, ‘Champ, I’ve gotta leave, because there’s no jobs here,’ ” Biden said. Choking up, he continued, “The notion that somehow, because I’m a man I don’t know what it’s like to raise two kids alone—I don’t know what it’s like to have a child that you’re not sure is gonna—is gonna make it.”
Biden will bring his gut sense of middle-class struggle, and the passion that makes him popular, to the debate floor this year. And he’ll be standing beside a man who has pledged to gut many programs middle-class families care about, without giving specifics. Ryan will have more time to prepare, but Biden may have the advantage. Explain yourself, champ.