US running mates clash in debate


In a pointed barb, Biden called Ryan's attack on the administration's handling of Libya 'malarkey'

US vice-presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan clashed sharply in their only debate, amid tightening polls ahead of the 6 November election.

Thursday night's head-to-head saw feisty exchanges on national security, the economy, taxes and healthcare.

Mr Biden, a Democrat, was aggressive, frequently interrupting his rival as he defended President Barack Obama.

Mr Ryan, a Republican Wisconsin congressman, was comparatively calm in his first debate on the national stage.

The head-to-head came as Democrats try to rejuvenate their campaign after what was widely seen as a poor debate performance by Mr Obama last week.


The Republican challenger, former Massachusetts governor and businessman Mitt Romney, has gained steadily in the polls as a result.

The president has acknowledged he was "too polite", and it appeared his campaign unleashed Mr Biden on Thursday night to attack Mr Romney on taxes, government spending, the economy and other issues.

Start Quote

This was a serious, substantive debate between two men who were well briefed and on their game. It probably won't change much - the ball is still very much in Mr Obama's court next week”

End Quote

The vice-president repeatedly cut off Mr Ryan, chuckling, rolling his eyes and raising his hands in apparent exasperation, even as he referred to his rival as "my friend".

But Mr Ryan seemed not to be rattled. His goal was to defend Mr Romney's recent gains against a renewed onslaught from Mr Obama, analysts said.

On stage at Centre College in Kentucky, the vice-presidential candidates jousted as moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News sought to keep order.

The debate opened with an exchange on Libya, where a US ambassador was killed last month in what the Obama administration now calls a terrorist attack.

Mr Biden defended the Obama administration's handling of the situation, as well as its initially inaccurate characterisation of the incident as a reaction to an anti-Islamic video made in the US.

And he pivoted to attack Mr Romney, saying the Republican's decision to hold a political press conference the morning after the attack was "not presidential leadership".

Ryan teased Biden's propensity for verbal blunders

In one of many barbs, he said Mr Ryan's criticisms of the administration's handling of the crisis were "a bunch of malarkey. Not a single thing he said is accurate".

Mr Ryan, meanwhile, said the administration had disregarded diplomats' requests for more security in Libya.

And in a charge he repeated later, Mr Ryan said: "What we are watching on our TV screens is the unravelling of the Obama foreign policy."


The men argued about Iran and the US relationship with Israel, but showed little substantive difference between their tickets' respective policies.

"When Barack Obama was elected, [Iran] had enough fissile material - nuclear material to make one bomb," Mr Ryan said. "Now they have enough for five."

Presidential debates 2012

  • 3 Oct Denver, Colorado. Domestic policy. Moderated by Jim Lehrer (PBS)
  • 11 Oct Danville, Kentucky. Vice-presidential debate. Moderated by Martha Raddatz (ABC)
  • 16 Oct Hempstead, New York. Town-hall style foreign policy debate. Moderator: Candy Crowley (CNN)
  • 22 Oct Boca Raton, Florida. Moderator: Bob Schieffer (CBS)

Commission on Presidential Debates

Mr Biden said international sanctions against Iran had crippled that nation's economy, and challenged Mr Ryan to clarify where Republican policy on Iran differs from the administration's.

"So all this bluster I keep hearing, all this loose talk, what are they talking about?" he asked.

On the economy, Mr Biden said the president had inherited a nation teetering on ruin - a result, he said repeatedly, of the Republican policies of George W Bush.

And he defended the president's remedies, especially a programme - that Mr Romney opposed - to save US auto manufacturers from bankruptcy.

"We knew we had to act for the middle class," Mr Biden said. "We immediately went out and rescued General Motors."

He added: "What did Romney do? Romney said, 'No, let Detroit go bankrupt.'"

Mr Biden also unleashed a broadside against Mr Romney's recently publicised comments that the 47% of Americans who pay no federal income tax are dependent on government, consider themselves victims, and should take responsibility for themselves.

"I've never met two guys who are more down on America across the board," he said, referring to Mr Romney and Mr Ryan.

'Wrong direction'

Mr Ryan sought to deflect the attack with a story about Mr Romney's personal generosity and by referring to Mr Biden's own record of verbal blunders.

The Biden and Ryan families At the end of the debate, the candidates' families greeted one another on stage

He acknowledged Mr Obama had inherited an economy near collapse, but added: "We're going in the wrong direction."

He noted the continuing high unemployment rate and other grim statistics.

"This is not what a real recovery looks like," the congressman said, promising that Mr Romney's tax plans would add jobs and promote economic growth.

Later, the two outlined their competing plans on the Medicare healthcare programme for over-65s.

Mr Biden defended the administration's 2010 health insurance overhaul, dubbed Obamacare.

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But Mr Ryan derided it as a government takeover of the healthcare industry and repeated a disputed assertion that Mr Obama had pulled money from Medicare in order to fund it.

With the election less than four weeks away, the rivals were tasked with keeping their respective campaigns competitive, as new polls suggest Mr Romney has narrowed or erased Mr Obama's lead in several key swing states.

The two candidates are virtually tied in Florida and Virginia while Mr Obama still leads in Ohio, but by a slimmer margin.


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US Presidential Election 2012


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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Paul Ryan is FIT!!!!!! He should support GAY MARRIAGE

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    How sad that 2 sides represent the same coin and both are responsible for the complete shambles the "real" economy faces... is it even sadder just how much of a role the media has played in all this? Not even given air time or consideration to other voices or parties, yes dear BBC that includes you. Poor reporting from the get go, no wonder people are looking elsewhere for engaging information.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    One thing I appropriated about Paul Ryan, he is NOT a flip flopper as his boss, Mitt. I understand that Ryan's job was really hard to defend that flip-flopper and totally dishonest Mitt. That made Joe's job easier. I hope Obama will sharpen and will have a more aggressive approach to that flip-flopper and utterly dishonest Mitt in subsequent presidential debate. Good luck - Mitt!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The only people who didn't see a clear winner seems to be the people analysing the debate on TV. Biden 'winning' seems obvious to most everyone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Add your comment...Biden CLEARLY won, with facts and a clear vision. How can you say it was even? Ryan looked lame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    As an independent British observer, I applaud both candidates for excellent debating skills. However, when you digest the details of each side’s policies, it is amazing how, in fact, there is little difference! Obama inherited a huge budget deficit, some of it, no doubt, caused by "two wars paid for on credit card". He has done well to steady the ship

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I was very disappointed that there wasn't a vote off and no Tulisa to give advice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I honestly wish that Romney and his team would say "Vote for us because THIS is how we can make this country better!" Instead I've been getting nothing but "Vote for us because THIS is what we'll do to stop Obama!"

    Please Americans, stop praising a candidate who's biggest campaign drive is his spite of the current president. Let's IMPROVE the country, not dig it deeper into its hole.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Biden did not crush it. he barely threaded water. the Ryan pulled ahead.
    Joes laugh will scare voters.
    Obama and Biden campaign is one based on lies.
    since the economy is not better. And voters know it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    As demonstrated by recent figures, this will be an extremely close election. Both Obama and Romney have ideas that appeal to the masses. However, it remains to be seen whether the real issues both leaders seem to be avoiding will be addressed in the future debates. One worrying aspect is Romneys willingness for another war in the volatile Middle East.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    It's the usual hot air from America & behind it is a huge wall of misery building up. America is trying to stave off depression with hot air & all indicators prove that hot air will not work against depression.
    Have a bad day America - it looks like that's all your fit for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Biden crushed it. Romney and Ryan are running a campaign based on lies and a refusal to be specific. Someone had to call them on it and he did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I was impressed by Biden. He did a great job of showing up Paul Ryan's avoidance of many of the questions. Romney & Ryan still have not given ANY specifics on their tax plan or budget so how can I possibly vote for them ? With less than a month to go to the election they should have all their plans out there for us to see. Instead they have nothing & Mitt still has not released his tax details.


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