The sole vice presidendial debate of this election cycle will be held October 11 between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan. Most observers expect this debate to be lively and entertaining, but how much will it it really matter?
Historically, how much have VP debates or, the VPs themselves for that matter, affected the election? The answer, is not much. Keep in mind, that the conventional wisdom is that voters overwhelmingly decide their vote based on the top of the ticket. Thus, unpopular VP choices, such as Nixon, Agnew, Quayle, and others did not cause their running mates, Eisenhower, Nixon and Bush, respectively, to lose. Even after probably the most famous “gotcha,” (when Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle “I knew John Kennedy. John Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no John Kennedy.”) Bush-Quayle won the election.
On the other hand, this particular VP debate carries some added intrigue for the following reasons:
1. Mr. Biden will be under pressure to reverse the momentum that Mr. Romney built up last week in the first Presidential debate. Mr. Romney’s victory in the debate was followed up by the expected “bounce” in the polls.
2. His supporters are counting on him to “expose” Mr. Ryan as a right wing conservative on social and economic issues.
3. They are hoping and expecting “scrappy Scranton Joe” to show up, not the “Gentlemen Joe” of 2008 vs. Sarah Palin. For example, I will be very surprised if he does not criticize Ryan on his foreign affairs inexperience, his budget plan, opposition to the auto bailout that “saved” GM and thousands of jobs in Ohio (“GM is alive and bin Laden is dead.”), privatization of social security and Mr. Romney’s 47% comment.
4. For his part, Mr. Ryan’s objective will be to maintain the momentum that Mr. Romney created last week.
5. His supporters are counting on him to display his knowledge and energy before a national audience, which is not that familiar with him.
6. I expect him to bring up a few of Mr. Biden’s gaffes, such as “the middle class has been ‘buried’ under President Obama.”
As we all know, the race is extremely close. The latest Pew Poll shows Mr. Romney up 49% – 45%. The latest Gallup poll shows President Obama up 50% – 45%. Both are within the margin of error. Moreover, as I have written in other blogs, most states are locked in for one candidate or the other. Only nine appear to be in play, and they will decide the election. Furthermore, many of each candidates’ supporters, perhaps as much as 30%, are “soft,” that is, open to being persuaded to switch. Many of them are domiciled in these nine states. In an election this close, with that many undecided and “soft” supporters everthing becomes significant, and anything can swing the election, even the VP debate. Stay tuned.