WASHINGTON (AP) — Four years ago, Joe Biden was careful not to appear overly aggressive in his vice presidential debate with Sarah Palin, then a newcomer to the national stage.
Now, as he prepares for tonight’s debate with Paul Ryan, a 14-year House veteran and the top Republican budget writer, Biden is less concerned about looking like a bully.
“I think he is going to play hardball,” said former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who played Palin in debate preparations in 2008 but is not involved this year. “He won’t have to worry about pulling punches. He can go after policy and raise issues with a number of deliberate deceptions the other side has put forth.”
Vice presidential debates typically don’t matter as much as presidential face-offs, but both parties say the stakes for Thursday’s clash in Kentucky are higher because of President Barack Obama’s lackluster showing in last week’s presidential debate.
A strong performance lifted Republican Mitt Romney, helping him cut into Obama’s lead in key battleground states. Officials in both parties anticipate that Vice President Biden will be notably more aggressive than Obama, repeatedly taking the fight to Ryan as Democrats try to regain their footing in the closely fought election.
“Obviously, what we expect is the vice president’s going to come at me like a cannonball,” Ryan said this week.
The 42-year-old congressman must overcome a lack of foreign policy expertise and experience in national debates, although Democrats praise his encyclopedic grasp of budget details and ability to think on his feet. “Paul Ryan is an inside Washington guy, smart and wonky. He knows the budget better than anybody,” said Granholm.
Biden is likely to press Ryan to defend Romney’s proposals on taxes, Medicare and spending — and seize any opportunity to tie Romney to a House Republican budget written by Ryan. Democrats say the GOP budget contains severe spending cuts unacceptable to most voters.