Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

7 Signals Stolen From The Running Mates' One-Game Playoff

Vice President Biden and Republican Paul Ryan debate Thursday, with Martha Raddatz moderating.
Saul Loeb
AFP/Getty Images
Vice President Biden and Republican Paul Ryan debate Thursday, with Martha Raddatz moderating.

You may have noticed that the vice presidential debate took place on the same day as four crucial games in this year's baseball playoffs. In case you were distracted at all by the latter, here's some of what you may have missed:

1) Joe Biden still has his fastball.
He will be 70 in a matter of weeks, but he can still step into a highly charged game situation with the bases loaded. He had his wits about him and his Irish up and did what his team needed done. In this case, his team was desperate for a save after President Obama, thought to be the ace of the Democrats' staff, turned in a memorably forgettable performance in the first debate.

2) Paul Ryan is fully ready for the major leagues.
At just 42, he is still a new commodity on the national political market. He has never run even statewide before, and his first weeks as the vice presidential nominee did less for Mitt Romney's cause than the campaign had hoped. But he was fully ready to do battle with the sitting vice president, held the stage, got his lines in and showed both brainpower and boyish charm.

3) You have to swing the bat if you want to win.
Biden went after Ryan on the details of Republican tax plans (which current deductions would be cut for the middle class?) and changes to Medicare and Social Security (precisely as the president had not). Ryan continued Romney's earlier assault on the Obama administration for its confusion regarding the Benghazi, Libya, consulate attack and for giving money to solar power projects that failed.

4) You have to be well-practiced to play position defense.
Both men were quite aware of the likely points of attack they faced and were obviously prepared. At one point Ryan objected to Biden's repeated interruptions and said he understood Biden was "under duress to make up for lost ground." But Biden was ready to point out Ryan's requests for grants under some of the very federal programs he called wasteful, as well as to note that Ryan's budget in Congress reduced funding for security at U.S. embassies and consulates.

5) Working the umps doesn't always work.
Some conservatives had complained prior to the debate that moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News had ties to the Obama-Biden ticket because the president, as a student, had attended her wedding to her first husband. But Raddatz ruled the evening with her expertise and evenhandedness, showing no signs of pressure or overcompensation. She set a new standard for moderating and may just have saved the concept of the debate moderator.

6) Sometimes it is better to sit and talk than to stand and fight.
The expression is "let's sit down and reason this out," and there is a reason. Having the debaters stand emphasizes ego and exposure and reinforces all the combat metaphors. Having them sit and converse with the moderator suggests an entirely different activity.

7) Winning one game is not the same as winning a series.
We have not seen a presidential election decided by the vice presidential debate, nor even by the vice presidential candidates. But each contest in a series influences the dynamic of the next. Running mates can alter the impression the ticket makes, and their debates in the past affected the dynamic of the presidential clashes as well. George W. Bush doubtless drew strength from the performance of Dick Cheney in his meetings with Democrats Joe Lieberman (2000) and John Edwards (2004), both of which Cheney clearly dominated. But what really matters is how the No. 2 energizes and bolsters the No. 1. This VP debate filled the bill for both the president and his challenger, but it was the president who had to be the most grateful.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.