October 12, 2012 in Nation/World

Fiery attacks highlight debate

Vice presidential candidates trade criticism, policy ideas
Lesley Clark McClatchy-Tribune
Associated Press photo

Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Republican vice presidential nominee Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan motion toward the audience following their debate Thursday night at Centre College in Danville, Ky.
(Full-size photo)

DANVILLE, Ky. – Vice President Joe Biden and Republican rival Paul Ryan sparred Thursday in often personal terms that exposed their passions and core beliefs over the role of their faith, families, and deeply held views about the role of government in American life and foreign policy.

Both men were assertive from the outset, a reflection of the closeness of the presidential race just weeks before the election, each eager to trumpet the strengths of his ticket and equally zealous in ripping the other party.

Biden was aggressive, hoping to make up for President Barack Obama’s tepid performance in his opening debate last week against Republican nominee Mitt Romney, a performance that reset the race and thrust the Republicans back into contention. Pressing to make his points, Biden at times raised his voice and jabbed his finger at moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News.

Ryan was more measured, often lowering his voice after Biden. A fresh-faced congressman who had never debated on the national stage despite his 14 years in the House, Ryan offered no signs of nervousness about the showdown with Biden.

Debates by vice presidential candidates usually have little effect on elections, but Thursday’s took on added significance after Obama’s lackluster debate debut on Oct. 3.

Since then, Romney has pulled even with Obama in national polls and closed the gap in several battleground states.

In Florida, Romney opened up a 7 percentage point lead, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll. Obama has a 1 percentage point edge over Romney in a new NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll of likely voters, released Thursday. The margin was the same as before the Obama-Romney debate. In Ohio, Obama leads by 6 percentage points. He had led by 8. And in Virginia, Obama was up 2, but Romney is now ahead by 1.

In their sole debate, Biden and Ryan sparred repeatedly on domestic policies such as Medicare and taxes, as well as foreign policy questions such as the attack in Libya that led to the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.

Most covered the same ground as Obama and Romney. It was in their personal exchanges that they shed new light on the two major party tickets and their policies.

Both Irish Roman Catholics, Biden and Ryan spoke about how their religion drives their different positions on abortion.

“Our faith informs us in everything we do,” Ryan said. He added that science also plays a role in his opposition to abortion rights in most cases, saying he and his wife were touched by the ultrasound image of their unborn first child.

While Ryan favors more limits, he said Romney’s policy would be to oppose abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

He criticized the Obama administration for supporting abortion rights without any limits and Biden for saying once he would not second-guess China’s one-child policy that can lead to forced abortion.

“My religion defines who I am,” Biden said, stressing both his church’s caring for the poor as well as its belief that life begins at conception.

“Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves,” Biden said.

While he said he shares the belief that life begins at conception, he said that was personal.

“I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews,” he said. “I don’t believe we have the right to tell women they can’t control their lives.”

In one of the more personal exchanges, Ryan told how Romney helped a family hit by injuries pay for college and how he gives more than 30 percent of his income to charity – more than Biden and Ryan combined.

“Mitt Romney is a good man,” Ryan said.

Referring to the criticism of Romney’s secretly taped comments disparaging 47 percent of Americans as freeloaders, Ryan said, “He cares about 100 percent of the Americans.”

Noting Biden’s own tendency for gaffes, Ryan joked that “sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.”

“I don’t doubt his personal commitment to individuals,” Biden said. “But I know he had no commitment to the automobile industry.”

Romney opposed the government bailout of Chrysler and General Motors. Both automakers are now on firmer financial ground.

Biden was animated throughout the debate, at turns smiling and laughing, as well as grimacing in response to Ryan’s answers to Raddatz’s questions. The vice president interrupted – which he did repeatedly – as Ryan criticized the administration’s Middle East policy.

“That’s a bunch of malarkey,” Biden said.

Ryan challenged the Obama administration’s first accounts of the Libya attacks, which at first claimed that an anti-Muslim video inflamed a crowd rather than calling it a terrorist attack. He noted that Obama referred to the video six times in a speech to the United Nations after the Libya attack.

“This is becoming more troubled by the day,” Ryan said of the still-emerging details of what the administration knew in those first days after the attack. Ryan said it was “indicative of a broader problem … the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy.”

Biden defended the administration’s response, saying it relied on intelligence reports that turned out to be false. “We will get to the bottom of it,” he said.

They tangled on Iran, with Ryan charging that Iran is “racing toward” developing nuclear weapons and that the administration dragged its feet to impose sanctions it now says are working to deter the regime. “When Barack Obama was elected, they had enough nuclear material to make one bomb. Now they have enough for five,” Ryan said.

Biden countered that having enough material does no good if they don’t have the capability of delivering it with an actual weapon. He also accused Republicans of “bluster” and “loose talk” and asked Ryan what else could be done beyond the “most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions.” He asked whether Ryan was saying that he’d back a war with Iran.

“How are they going to prevent war if there’s nothing more they say we should do than we’ve already done,” Biden said. “We feel quite confident we could deal a serious blow to the Iranians.”

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