October 12, 2012

Viewers of oft-overlooked VP debate say it matters

Viewers disagree on whether Biden or Ryan did better framing the issues, whether the vice president was too argumentative or justifiably aggressive, and whether his younger challenger was up to the task.

ADAM GELLER/AP National Writer

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Supporters of Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, gather at the Holiday Inn Express in Janesville, Wis. to watch his debate with Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012. (AP Photo/The Janesville Gazette, Mark Kauzlarich)


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Jadon Forbes, a 22-year-old senior studying international comparative politics, said he went into the debate believing that Biden needed to "be the spark plug," needed to recharge the faith of Democratic voters. The vice president delivered, he said.

"He was blunt, but I don't think he was too blunt," Forbes said of Biden. "He took the formality down a little with his commentary. He definitely kept the energy up and kept Ryan on his toes."

But elsewhere in town, Rachel Dodsworth, 25, saw and heard the same debate very differently. A member of the Savannah Area Young Republicans, Dodsworth said she felt like Ryan came off as particularly strong on foreign policy and helped defend Romney's plan for growing the economy by cutting tax rates and closing loopholes.

And while Ryan, like Romney, hedged on giving details of how to pay for those cuts, Dodsworth defended his answer that the president's job was to provide a basic framework and let Congress hash out the details.

"You could see how he was cool and collected and that he can be at the table and do the job," said Dodsworth, a web consultant.

Biden came across as too aggressive, Dodsworth said. But she wondered whether either candidates' presentation will make a difference with voters.

"In the end I think it's going to boil down to Obama and Romney and who the American people think can best lead us to job creation," she said.

Many of the voters who tuned in Thursday said they did so with one or two particular issues in mind. For Johnson, the Savannah State student, it was concern about government grants she's counting on to help for her next step, either law school or working toward a master's degree. She found Ryan evasive on questions about what he would do to fund education.

For Mary Lou Shadle, a 77-year-old former social worker who watched with nearly 30 other seniors at the Montgomery Place Continuing Care Retirement Community on Chicago's South Side, the issue was entitlement programs, particularly protecting the Medicare she counts on. She came away convinced more than ever that a Romney administration would endanger them.

For Louis Pendygraft, a 53-year-old unemployed construction worker who came to watch the debate in Danville, the issue is jobs and the economy. The debate cemented his plan to vote for Romney and Ryan.

"It's the small business people who make the world go around," Pendygraft said. "I think Romney, because he is a businessman, can get the economy going stronger," said Pendygraft, a Republican

Robert Strauss, a registered independent and professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said he didn't think the debate will sway many voters.

"They were both vigorous. They both avoided answering questions. Would I watch a rerun of this? I don't think so," Strauss said, adding that what he saw was about what he expected of both men.

But others, like those who came out to watch on a giant outdoor screen set up on the Centre College campus where the debate was held, said the faceoff had intensified their decision-making process.

Don Matherly, a 63-year-old Navy veteran who lives in Danville and voted for Obama in 2008, said he had been leaning toward Romney, but remained conflicted even after the debate.

"I'm to the point where I don't even know if I want to vote," said Matherly, who called the debate a draw. It would have helped, he said, if the candidates had talked more about how to create jobs.

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