What To Watch For During the VP Debate

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 11 2012 10:26 AM

5 x 5 Things To Watch For During the VP Debate

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Crews put finishing touches on the stage for the vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

Photograph by Saul Loeb/AFP/GettyImages.

As we're guessing you've heard by now, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan are set to square off on stage in Danville, Ky. tonight. As you've also probably gathered from a quick scan of the Internet, there are definitely things you should be on the lookout for.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

How many things? Five, apparently.

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Here's a quick roundup of the VP listicles currently out there. In the spirit of things, we'll limit ourselves to the five best, which leaves us with somewhere between 15 and 25 different things to watch for. (Bolded words theirs; summaries ours)

  • 1) Can Biden draw blood?: In short, will the vice president be able to play the offense that President Obama either couldn't or wouldn't last week?
  • 2) Can Ryan defend himself and the GOP ticket?: Will the Republican No. 2 be able to avoid looking inauthentic while blurring the lines between his personal positions and those of his running mate. (The Wisconsin congressman, a Catholic, has stronger views on abortion than Romney, for example.)
  • 3) Will Ryan let his feel-your-pain flag fly? Will Ryan, a self-described numbers guy, be able to compete with Biden when it comes to delivering those lines and anecdotes meant to connect emotionally with voters at home.
  • 4) Good Joe v. Bad Biden: The VP has proved to be a surprisingly strong debater. He's also proved to be something of a gaffe-machine. Which one will we see on stage tonight?
  • 5) How will foreign policy play? Biden has the experience on this issue, but look for Ryan to swing hard over the administration's shifting narrative of what happened in Benghazi.
  • 6) The expectations game: In a reversal from last week, it's the Republican that most viewers expect to do better on stage.
  • 7) Stakes is High: VP debates may not normally matter, but given the recent polling numbers this one feels different. Will Ryan keep the Romney surge going? Will Biden restore things to the pre-Denver order that appeared to have Obama on a slow march to victory? [Note "Stakes is High" is a somewhat obscure De La Soul song title.]
  • 8) Blood on the floor: The bottom half of presidential tickets often serve as attack dogs on the campaign trail, a role both Biden and Ryan have embraced. Just how nasty will they get on stage?
  • 9) The fog of 2016: Both of these men—yes, both—are believed to have at least one eye on the next election.
  • 10) The Ryan wonk out: The congressman has never been on a debate stage this big before. Will he be able to connect with the American public? Or will he fall back into House Budget Chairman-ese and risk getting bogged down in numbers?
  • 11) Fireworks: See No. 8
  • 12) Liar, Liar: Democrats feel Obama didn't challenge Romney last week on a slew of his assertions having to do with the president's policies and his own. How aggressive will Biden be with the real-time fact-checking?
  • 13) Medicare: How often, and how hard, will Biden go after Ryan for his proposal to  partially privatize Medicare?
  • 14) Can Ryan Handle Foreign Policy? See No. 5
  • 15) Four Years Down the Road: See No. 9
  • 16) Will Biden go where Obama didn't? See No. 1
  • 17) The wonk trap: See No. 10
  • 18) Will Biden put Social Security in play?: Ryan has previously backed moving Social Security funds to private investment accounts but Obama largely passed on making that an issue in Denver. Biden may not do the same.
  • 19) The age gap: Ryan is 42; Biden is 69.
  • 20) Can Ryan be seen as commander in chief? Will viewers see the congressman as someone who could be president if something were to happen to Romney while he was in office?
  • 21) Rescuing President Obama: No. 1 mixed with a little No. 7
  • 22) The Ryan budget: A mix of No. 10 and No. 13, with a dash of No. 2
  • 23) Joe Biden, gaffe machine?: See No. 4
  • 24) Paul Ryan, too young for prime time? Let's call it No. 19.5
  • 25) Attack dog politics: No. 8

Debate kicks off at 9 p.m. ET.