It was a remarkably lively exchange of scoffing, eye-rolling, smirking and mocking chuckles as the vice-presidential rivals argued at a table in the 90-minute debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

Share story

Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin tangled over the Middle East, the economy, taxes and more in a scrappy back-and-forth Thursday night at their only debate.

It was a remarkably lively exchange of scoffing, eye-rolling, smirking and mocking chuckles as the vice-presidential rivals argued at a table in the 90-minute faceoff at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

An argument over income taxes captured the tone, toggling between combative and jocular. Ryan sought to explain how Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would cut tax rates across the board by 20 percent, but make up for the lost revenue by getting rid of loopholes and deductions.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

“Can I translate?” Biden interrupted.

“We want to work with Congress on how best to achieve this,” Ryan resumed.

Moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News asked the Wisconsin congressman whether he could “guarantee this math will add up.”

“Absolutely,” Ryan responded.

Not so, Biden stated. Romney’s plan, according to the Democratic vice president, would inevitably require pain for the middle class, such as the loss of tax breaks on mortgage interest and college tuition.

“Is he wrong about that?” Raddatz asked.

“He is wrong about that,” Ryan replied.

After trying to explain why, Ryan added, “Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates, increased growth.”

“Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy,” Biden interjected.

Ryan also criticized President Obama for not agreeing to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu while he was in New York City for a United Nations meeting, but appearing the same day on ABC’s “The View.”

“This is a bunch of stuff,” Biden said.

“What does that mean, a bunch of stuff?” Raddatz asked.

“It’s Irish,” Ryan chimed in. “We Irish call it malarkey,” Biden said.

So it went for the full 1 ½ hours as Biden and Ryan fought at a steady rat-a-tat pace over almost every topic raised.

It was the debate that Obama and Romney did not have a week ago.

While they were not on stage, Obama and Romney were at the center of the conversation as their running mates made certain the evening was squarely focused on defining the men at the top of the ticket.

It was Biden who sought to quiet the rising clamor among Democrats that the president was not assertive enough with Romney at their debate last week in Denver. A day after Obama conceded he was “too polite,” Biden showed no hesitation in hectoring, heckling and interrupting his challenger.

Within a single minute, Biden worked in three attacks on his Republican rivals, referring to Romney’s opposition to the bailout of the auto industry, his statement that the nation’s foreclosure crisis would have to “run its course” and his comment about “47 percent” of Americans who he said were overreliant on government benefits.

“These guys bet against America all the time,” said Biden, whose temperature was running close to boil for most of the evening.

Ryan, who kept his composure for most of the night, suggested that Romney misspoke when talking about the 47 percent. He added pointedly, “I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.”

But Biden retorted sharply: “But I always say what I mean. And so does Romney.”

The two men walked on stage and took their seats around a table, rather than standing at lecterns as their counterparts did last week. They repeatedly talked over one another, but Raddatz, the moderator, pressed both men at various points to better explain themselves.

At one point, she argued directly with Biden over misgivings among some in the military over the timing of pulling troops from Afghanistan during the traditionally heavily fought warmer months. When Biden disputed that the timing was political, Raddatz said, “Trust me. There are people who were concerned about pulling out on the fighting season.”

Ryan offered a point-by-point rebuttal of the vice president, accusing the administration of lacking “credibility” in its international approach to Iran because it sent mixed signals and that the tough sanctions came about only because of the fortitude of Congress.

He sharply criticized the administration’s handling of the terrorist strike in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador, saying: “It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack. Look, if we’re hit by terrorists, we’re going to call it what it is, a terrorist attack.”

Ryan chastised Obama, questioning why the United States did not have protection for the diplomatic compound. He declared, “This is becoming more troubling by the day.”

But as Biden reminded Ryan that he and House Republicans cut the budget for the security, he sought to use the question about the attack on Libya to immediately begin the attack on Romney’s positioning. He contrasted Obama’s overall foreign-policy record with Romney’s, ranging from Iraq to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

“The president has led with a steady hand and clear vision: Gov. Romney hasn’t,” Biden said. “The last thing we need is another war.”

The next presidential debate is set for Tuesday, when the candidates take questions from voters at a town-hall-style meeting in Hempstead, N.Y. The third and final debate between Obama and Romney is Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla., only two weeks before Election Day.

“These guys bet against America all the time.”

“This is becoming more troubling by the day.”

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.