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Joe Biden, Paul Ryan play offense in debate

Vice President Joe Biden makes a point during

Vice President Joe Biden makes a point during the vice-presidential debate with Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin at Centre College in Danville, Ky. (Oct. 11, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

Joe Biden repeatedly called Paul Ryan “my friend,” but this debate wasn’t particularly friendly. The Vice President and the Congressman from Wisconsin attacked each other from the beginning, with Biden accusing Ryan of voting in favor two expensive wars and Ryan slamming Biden and President Barack Obama for leading the nation down an unsustainable fiscal path. Medicare, tax cuts and the state of U.S. relations with Iran provided some of the most spirited sparring.

Ryan accused Biden of scrambling to make up ground on behalf of Obama, who appeared sluggish in last week’s debate against a fired-up Mitt Romney. Biden, wearing a smirk and frequently interrupting his opponent, laughed off the accusation and stayed on the offensive, characterizing Ryan and Romney as war hawks who lack commitment to the middle class. Shortly after the debate, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Biden cut off Ryan 82 times during the debate. But Ryan largely remained calm and composed during his exchanges with the vice president, and stuck to his ticket’s pledge to reinvigorate the economy via job growth and tax relief.

The debate was the only chance the vice presidential candidates will have to square off on issues. A CBS News “Snap Poll” of uncommited voters said 50 percent felt Biden won, 31 believed Ryan prevailed, and 19 felt the debate was a draw, the network reported shortly after the closing statements. But CNBC tweeted 56 percent felt Ryan won, 36 percent saw a Biden victory, 8 percent believed neither man won.

10:32 p.m.

We're finished. The candidates are joined by their families on stage. We'll take a breath and be back to wrap up.

10:25 p.m.

As we near the end of the debate, Ryan says, "the president likes to say he has a plan; he gave a speech. ... That's what we get in this administraiton - speeches."

Biden winds down with another shot at Romney and Ryan for pushing for tax cuts for the wealthy.

Raddatz has had enough of that; she wants closing statements.

Before that, Ryan says: "Look, we can grow this economy faster. ... It's about creating 12 million jobs, getting people out of poverty, into the middle class."

Biden says his record stands for itself. "My whole life has been devoted to leveling the playing field for middle class people."

And now the closing statements are here.

Biden says Obama acted to bring relief to the middle class. Romney and Ryan are "talking about the people who built this country" when he disregards 47 percent of the American people, the vice president says. "Honey, it's going to be OK," is something parents should be able to say to their children, he finishes.

Ryan closes with shots at Obama's economic policy. "President Obama, he had his chance. ... It's not working." Romney is the right candidate for a time when America has a jobs crisis, Ryan adds. "Mitt Romney and I will not duck the tough issues."

10:20 p.m.

Raddatz wants to know if the candidates should be "embarassed" by the tone of the campaign so far.

Biden doesn't think so. "There are thngs that have occurred in this campaign ... that I'm sure both of us would regret," he says. But he adds that voters concerned with the negativity should remember that Obama is the candidate who is fighting for the middle class. "Slipshod" comments by Romney and Ryan don't serve our interest, he said.

Ryan says Obama has shifted from "hope and change" to "attack, blame and defame."

10:15 p.m.

The conversation about religion has turned into a debate about abortion.

Raddatz wants to know if abortion-rights advocates should be "worried" if Romney and Ryan are elected. He is swift to say that he doesn't believe "unelected judges" should make decisions about abortion.

Biden doesn't buy that. "The next president will get one or two Supreme Court nominees," Biden said. "That's how close Roe v. Wade is."

10:10 p.m.

Paul Ryan is not a fan of the way Russia handles itself as a world power. He has made that very clear in several different segments of this debate. But we're back to domestic policy, as Raddatz wants to know what role religion plays in each man's life.

Ryan says he is not against abortion simply because of Catholic faith, though it is a factor. "The policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortion" except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the mother is in jeopardy, he says. Taxpayer-funded abortion is also immoral, he said.

Biden takes a different approach, other than to agree that Catholicism defines who he is. He says he accepts the Catholic opinion that life begins at conception, but he "refuses to impose" that view through legislation.

10:05 p.m.

Civil war in Syria is the next international issue on the agenda.

Biden says the United States in working "hand in glove" with Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to monitor the situation in Syria. He accuses Ryan and Romney of "loose talk" about what America should be doing in Syria -- it's too close to putting American boots on the ground, he says. "The last thing America needs is to get into another ground war in the Middle East," Biden says.

"Nobody is proposing to send" American troops to Syria, Ryan said. What America should not be doing, he says, is outsourcing its foreign policy to the United Nations in regards to Syria. "Working through our allies" would have been smart, but instead, the United States is letting the United Nations take the lead, he said.

10:00 p.m.

Why not leave Afghanistan? "We don't want to lose the gains we've gotten," Ryan says. "We want to see the 2014 transition be successful." He adds that Afghanistan can become "a launching pad for terrorists" with a weak transition. Ryan says he agrees with the 2014 draw down, but doesn't want to "broadcast to our enemies" a strategy to hold out.

Biden says the U.S. has "decimated al Qaida" and "eliminated Osama bin Laden." The time is now for a "gradual draw down" so "we're out of there by 2014." The vice president makes it clear that Afghanistan has to begin to police itself soon. "We are leaving in 2014. Period," he says.

The candidates seem closer on Afghanistan than on domestic affairs, economic policy and Medicare.

9:55 p.m.

Both candidates are playing offense as the debate switches to national defense.

Ryan says Obama's defense budget cuts "invite weakness." He said: "Don't cut it by a trillion dollars." Ryan adds that Obama's defense spending plan would cripple the Navy.

Biden says the military is asking for a "smaller, leaner Army." Ryan wants to bite back, but Raddatz is on to Afghanistan. "Why not leave now," she asks?

9:50 p.m.

All politics is indeed local as former speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O'Neill has come up twice tonight -- once from each candidate. O'Neill, who wrangled with President Ronald Reagan over taxes, would be interested to hear Biden and Ryan sparring on the same topic.

Ryan lauded Romney for working with Democrats in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, where Romney served as governor. Biden took a jab at the fact that Romney is likely to lose Massachusetts by a wide margin in November.

"Middle class people need the help," Biden repeats.

9:45 p.m.

Taxes are the next issue.

"Middle class will pay less," Biden says immediately. "We want to extend permanently the middle class tax cut." Biden chides Romney and Ryan for planning to alter tax cuts so wealthy people would pay less. The vice president says "the last people who need help" are wealthy families.

Ryan says the Romney tax cut plan would grow the economy and jobs. "There aren't enough rich people and small businesses to tax to pay for all their spending," Ryan says. Now is the time for "fundamental" tax reform, he says. Lower tax rates across the board and closing loopholes, mostly for high-income earners, would get the economy moving again, he says.

9:40 p.m.

A heated exchange as Ryan says Biden is scrambling "to make up lost ground." Burn.

But Biden is sticking with Medicare, an issue on which he feels he can hammer Ryan and Romney. He looks to the camera again and says: "Look, all you seniors out there, have you been denied benefits?"

Ryan, prodded by Raddatz about his stance on private Social Security, says he supported President George W. Bush's plan to make money work faster through privatized Social Security. Biden jabs that we "saw how well that worked." Ryan accuses Biden of trotting out old scare tactics, and trying to make voters "run away from" the Romney-Ryan ticket.

9:35 p.m.

Ryan has struggled to convince voters that he will protect Medicare, and here is his chance, because we’re on to that issue.

“Look what Obamacare does,” he says, “takes $716 billion from Medicare.” Ryan says the right approach is to give younger people guaranteed coverage options -- including Medicare -- when they become eligible.

Biden says Ryan’s oft-repeated $716 billion claim is false. He says the Romney camp favors vouchers. “Folks, follow your instincts on this one,” he says. “And with regard to Social Security, we will not privatize.” Biden looks to camera and says Romney and Ryan’s ideas are old, bad, and will kill Medicare.

9:30 p.m.

Biden accuses Ryan of helping create the sour economy by voting to put "two wars on a credit card."

Ryan retorts that Obama has increased the country's debt to China.

9:25 p.m.

Biden says unemployment will be reduced to less than 6 percent. (It is currently 7.8 percent.) The vice president says he has "had it up to here" with the much-publicized Romney statement that 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income taxes and "will vote for the president no matter what."

Ryan says the unemployment of 10 percent in Biden's hometown of Scranton, Pa., is "unacceptable." Ryan gets some laughs by saying that Biden can relate to the fact that "the words don't always come out of your mouth the right way." A Romney administration would reduce taxes and regulations on small businesses, which would be allowed to act as engines for the economy again, Ryan said.

9:20 p.m.

"Big nations can't bluff," says Biden, as the Iran debate ends. With that, we're on to the economy and unemployment.

9:15 p.m.

Iran dominates the debate in the early going.

Ryan takes a more hawkish -- alarmist? -- approach than Biden on Iran. He says the Iranians are "moving faster" toward a nuclear weapon. "They are not changing their mind. That's what we have to do is change their mind," he said.

Biden is doing a considerable amount of grinning when Ryan speaks. He says Iranian leaders see "their economy being crippled" and the world united against the country; the vice president is dismissive of Ryan's claim that Obama is weak on Iran. "Let's all calm down a little bit here. Iran is more isolated today than when we took office. ... I don't know what world these guys are in."

Ryan has repeated that Russia was "watered down" sanctions against Iran.

9:10 p.m.

Biden is the first to make an aggressive move, accusing Ryan of proliferating “a bunch of malarkey” on Obama’s defense spending.

Ryan had slammed Obama over defense cuts. Raddatz used the defense debate as a segue into Iran, and asks the candidates what the United States should do to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. Ryan says: "Do you think Iran's not brazen? They are stepping up their terrorist attacks." He adds that "to solve this peacefully, which is everybody's goal," the U.S. needs to be aggressive about sanctions to keep Iran away from nuclear weapons. He faults Obama for a weak approach on sanctions.

Biden calls the sanctions "the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions." With regard to the ability of the U.S. to take military action, Biden says America feels quite confident that it could "deal a serious blow to the Iranians." He adds they are "a good way away" from a nuclear weapon.

Raddatz is very firm early on. Jim Lehrer, who moderated last week’s debate, faced criticism for lacking control. In fact, Politico is fronting a story now with the headline “How Martha Raddatz could hurt Jim Lehrer.”

9:00 p.m.

Raddatz explains the debate format and thanks “two men who have dedicated much of their lives” to public service for participating. It’s very similar to last week’s presidential debate. Raddatz says we’re starting with a quesiton about Libya.

Biden says America will “find and bring to justice” the Benghazi terrorists. Staying with the global war on terror, the vice president also repeats that Obama has said he “will end the war” in Afghanistan in 2014.

Ryan responds it took the president “two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack.” This is reminiscent of a recent statement by Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), and other Republicans nationwide.

Notable: Danville, Ky., where the debate is taking place, also hosts the Great American Brass Band Festival.

8:30 p.m.

Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) square off in tonight's vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky. The forum, which will be moderated by Martha Raddatz,  is the sole vice presidential debate of the campaign season. President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who debated last week, will meet again at Hofstra University on Tuesday.

The vice presidential debate is scheduled to focus on the economy, which dominated last week's debate, and foreign policy and will likely feature a contrast in styles.

Ryan, a star in this year's Republican National Convention, is likely to play offense, and attempt to build on the momentum gained by Romney in last week's debate. Biden, who frequently trades in anecdotes and emotive pleas, will seek to squelch that momentum by reminding viewers of Obama's successes -- a point he pushed with the line "Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive" during the Democrats' September rally.

The 2008 debate between Biden and GOP candidate Sarah Palin was memorable from the moment Palin asked, "Hey, can I call you Joe?" We'll see if Biden and Ryan exchange such pleasantries tonight.

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