Joe Biden blew it.
But it's going to take a few days for that to become clear.
For all the energy the vice president showed at the Kentucky debate -- and God knows his ticket needed it -- his "Saturday Night Live"-skit performance Thursday night obscured anything of substance said on stage -- other than his charge that the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, never asked for more security, which appears to be untrue.
That was news, and news has legs.
Benghazi, and Biden's manic performance itself, are the two enduring take-aways from the debate, and neither will help the Obama campaign in the stretch. Indeed, the first will serve as another distraction, a la Big Bird, and the second will further fuel the very serious investigation going on into whether the Obama administration purposely sought to cover up the nature of and preparedness for the 9/11 attack in Libya.
The prepackaged question on every pundit's lips going into Danville was, "Can Joe Biden stanch the bleeding?" after President Barack Obama's lackluster performance in his first head-to-head with former Gov. Mitt Romney.
That was the advertised bar for Biden to hurdle, and whether he cleared it had to be determined in the news cycle immediately following the debate. The consensus among the commentariat seemed to be "yes" -- at least in the energy department. Biden demonstrated a passion in Kentucky that Obama lacked in Colorado.
But he overdid it. By about 50,000 watts.
There were times when Biden looked positively unhinged. "Is there some type of medication you might require, Mr. Vice President?" would have been a legitimate question in the debate's opening half-hour.
Biden's doddering old uncle routine -- you could almost smell Aqua Velva through the television screen -- was no doubt meant to rattle the less experienced debater, but it became a sideshow in itself. Maybe that was done on purpose, too.
Rep. Paul Ryan is a bright guy, but I can't remember a word he said because of that split screen. Ryan could have explained how to divide the atom, but I, and millions of other Americans, couldn't stop watching Biden's "SNL" act. He was like the teenager hamming it up in the background of a live television shot.
The vice president did far better in the second half of the debate. The antics stopped and he got serious. He also showed his impressive breadth of knowledge -- as did Ryan. But the debate's second, third, and fourth-day story line was set by then. The smiles, the smirks, the gasps and the eye-rolls had already become the lasting imagery of the night, and Biden's curious Benghazi remarks became the story for national reporters to run down.
Intelligence failures happen. The American people are sympathetic to that. But if it becomes clear that the White House tried to paper over the sacking of an American consulate and the murder of four of its diplomats on the anniversary of the first 9/11 attacks, it will be difficult for the president to talk about anything else for the remaining weeks before the election. His campaign will remain in a defensive posture.