Biden and Ryan clash over Libya, economy in debate

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 11, 2012 

DANVILLE, Ky. -- In a battle of understudies, Vice President Joe Biden and Republican rival Paul Ryan went after one another repeatedly Thursday night on issues ranging from the fate of Medicare to the terrorist attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya.

Both men were assertive, eager to trumpet the strengths of their tickets and equally zealous in ripping the other party.

Ryan was aggressive from the outset, challenging the Obama administration’s first accounts of the Libya attacks, which at first claimed that an anti-Muslim video inflamed a crowd rather than calling it a terrorist attack. He noted that President Barack Obama referred to the video six times in a speech to the United Nations after the Libya attack.

“This is becoming more troubled by the day,” Ryan said of the still-emerging details of what the administration knew in those first days after the attack. Ryan said it was “indicative of a broader problem ... the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy.”

Biden defended the administration’s response, saying it relied on intelligence reports that turned out to be false. “We will get to the bottom of it,” he said.

Ryan, the fresh-faced congressman who had never debated on the national stage, despite his 14 years in the House of Representatives, betrayed no signs of nervousness about the showdown with Biden, a veteran of 36 years of Senate debates.

Their meeting, televised nationally from Centre College, was moderated by Martha Raddatz of ABC. The candidates sat at a table, fielding domestic and foreign policy questions.

Usually an afterthought with little impact on the race, the only such meeting between the No. 2s on their respective tickets took on added significance after Obama’s lackluster debate debut on Oct. 3.

Since then, Romney has pulled even with Obama in national polls and closed the gap in several battleground states.

In Florida, Romney opened up a 7 point lead, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll. Obama has a 1 percentage point edge over Romney in a new NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll of likely voters, released Thursday. The margin was the same as before the Obama-Romney debate. In Ohio, Obama leads by 6 points. He had led by 8. And in Virginia, Obama was up 2, but Romney is now ahead by 1.

With just one debate, Biden and Ryan bounced back and forth from domestic to foreign policy.

Biden used a question about the nation’s unemployment rate to criticize taped comments by Romney in which he disparaged 47 percent of Americans as non-tax paying freeloaders. Biden accused Romney of saying he’d let housing foreclosures hit bottom.

In one of the more personal exchanges, Ryan told how Romney helped a family hit by injuries pay for college, and how he gives more than 30 percent of his income to charity -- more than Biden and Ryan combined.

“Mitt Romney is good man,” Ryan said.

Referring to the criticism Romney’s received about the 47 percent comment, Ryan said,

“He cares about 100 percent of the Americans.”

Noting Biden’s own tendency for gaffes, Ryan joked that “sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.”

Biden, noting that his daughter and first wife were killed in a car accident four decades ago, said he understood the impact of tragedy. Of Romney, he said, “I don’t doubt his personal commitment to individuals. But I know he had no commitment to the automobile industry.”

Romney opposed the government bailout of Chrysler and General Motors. Both automakers are now on firmer financial ground.

Biden was animated throughout the debate, at turns smiling and laughing, as well as grimacing in response to Ryan’s answers to Raddatz’s questions. The vice president interrupted as Ryan criticized the administration’s Middle East policy.

“That’s a bunch of malarkey,” Biden said, subsequently suggesting that Ryan’s remarks were “a bunch of stuff.”

When Raddatz gave him a quizzical look, Biden told her, “It’s simply inaccurate.”

Ryan offered, “It’s Irish.”

Both men are Irish Catholics.

They tangled on Iran, with Ryan charging that Iran is “racing toward” developing nuclear weapons and that the administration dragged its feet to impose sanctions it now says are working to deter the regime.

Biden accused Republicans of “bluster” and “loose talk” and asked Ryan what else could be done beyond the “most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions.” He asked whether Ryan was saying that he’d back a war with Iran.

“How are they going to prevent war if there’s nothing more they say we should do than we’ve already done,” Biden said.

“We feel quite confident we could deal a serious blow to the Iranians.”

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