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VP, Ryan combative in debate

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 11:09 p.m.
Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, challenge each other during the vice presidential debate at Centre College, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky. 
Eric Gay |  AP
Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, challenge each other during the vice presidential debate at Centre College, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky. Eric Gay | AP

Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan engaged in heated exchanges in their sole debate, interrupting each other, shaking their heads while the other was talking and accusing each other of not telling the truth.

Martha Raddatz, senior foreign correspondent for ABC News, who moderated the debate on Thursday night at Centre College in Danville, Ky., largely let the two attack each other, interrupting to ask for specifics on issues or cutting off a candidate who'd gone on too long.

Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who is Mitt Romney's running mate, said the unrest in Egypt and the attack on the Libyan consulate in Benghazi, in which an ambassador and three other Americans were killed, is part of “the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy, which is making the world more chaotic and less safe.”

“With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey,” Biden said.

The two had a series of exchanges that were much sharper than Romney's and President Obama's last week.

Ryan said Obama tried to water down sanctions against Iran. Biden said the administration's approach attracted crucial international support that isolated Iran in ways the GOP wouldn't have.

“Do you want to go to war?” Biden said to Ryan.

“We want to prevent war,” Ryan shot back.

Biden noted Romney supported keeping the sanctions in place, and added, “I may be mistaken. He changes his mind so often.”

Biden accused Republicans of “holding ... hostage” the Bush-era tax cuts for people making less than $250,000 a year. Ryan said taxing “every successful small business at 100 percent” would only fund the government for 98 days.

“There aren't enough rich people and small businesses to pay for their spending,” the congressman said.

When Biden interrupted him on one question, Ryan said, “I know you're under duress… but I think we'll be better served if we don't interrupt each other.”

“Well, don't take up the whole four minutes (of response time) then,” Biden said, talking over the end of Ryan's statement.

Both men entered Congress in their late 20s ­— Ryan at 28 and Biden at 29. Biden, 69, rose to prominence for his work on foreign policy and bills aimed at combating crime and violence against women. Ryan, 42, became a hero among conservatives for the austere federal spending plan he put forward soon after taking over as House Budget Committee chairman in 2011.

Biden attacked Ryan for criticizing the economic stimulus bill while requesting money for his Janesville congressional district.

“He sent me two letters saying, ‘By the way, can you send me millions of dollars?'” from the stimulus, Biden said.

Biden's gestures — laughing at some of Ryan's answers and rolling his eyes at others — came across poorly on the split-screen broadcast, said GOP strategist Bruce Haynes, a managing partner at Purple Strategies.

“He came well-prepared but lost control by alternating between inappropriate laughter and condescending rudeness,” Haynes said. “Any good points he might have made were overwhelmed by his bad attitude.”

“This was a messier debate than the last one, but Vice President Biden controlled the direction of the conversation and cut Congressman Ryan off at the knees every time he tried to assert something that was untrue,” said Mark Nevins, a Philadelphia-based Democratic consultant. “What will be interesting now is the debate after the debate. ... The next two-three days will tell us whether Biden stopped the Romney momentum in its tracks.”

That momentum was generated by Obama's lackluster performance in the first presidential debate last week.

Biden's challenge mirrored the one that faced then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, after President Ronald Reagan was seen to have lost in his first match against Democrat Walter Mondale.

“That vice presidential debate was a big deal in 1984 because President Reagan had an off night in his first debate,” Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, said of his father's challenge. “There was a lot of pressure for him to do well but he couldn't be too aggressive.”

That's partly because Bush was debating the first female candidate for the vice presidency, Geraldine Ferraro. Biden debated the second — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — in 2008.

Ryan plans to campaign at Youngstown State University on Friday. Biden heads to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, in Ryan's home state, to campaign with his wife, Jill Biden.

Two remaining presidential debates are scheduled for Tuesday and Oct. 22.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Mike Wereschagin & Salena Zito are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Wereschagin can be reached at 412-320-7900 or Zito can be reached at

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