Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Partisans are fired up on both sides

By David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst
October 12, 2012 -- Updated 1810 GMT (0210 HKT)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, right, and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan depart the stage following their debate on Thursday, October 11. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/11/politics/gallery/joe-biden-expressions/index.html' target='_blank'>See the many expressions of Vice President Joe Biden during the debate</a>. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, right, and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan depart the stage following their debate on Thursday, October 11. See the many expressions of Vice President Joe Biden during the debate.
HIDE CAPTION
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Gergen: Two debates in two weeks have transformed presidential race
  • Gergen says the polls have tightened, partisans on both sides are fired up
  • CNN poll gave a slight edge to Paul Ryan; Gergen says he had edge on style
  • Gergen: Tuesday's town hall debate looks increasingly important

Editor's note: David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- What a difference two debates have made.

Before the first presidential debate last week, President Barack Obama appeared to be cruising toward re-election and possibly a thumping victory. After the first presidential debate, that changed dramatically: Suddenly, we had a horse race. Now after the vice presidential debate Thursday night, we not only have a horse race, but partisans fired up on both sides.

Joe Biden relit the fire under Democrats in a passionate, often dominant tangle with Paul Ryan. Going into that encounter, Democratic spirits were not only drooping but some were beginning to panic that they were throwing away the election.

Biden put a forceful stop to the caterwauling -- or, as Gloria Borger put it, righted the ship. He was especially effective in countering Ryan on Medicare and (as Van Jones argued after the debate) in making a case that a Romney administration could mean the end of Roe v. Wade. An old pro, Biden knows how to play to seniors, women and the middle class.

Opinion: Debate coach -- it's the Biden show!

David Gergen
David Gergen

But Republicans took equal encouragement from Ryan's performance. And well they should. Ryan was a steady, unflappable presence onstage who made an articulate set of arguments in favor of conservative principles while also seeming sensitive and reasonable to many moderates. Ryan was also surprisingly strong on foreign policy, holding his own against a man far more schooled in the subject. Overall, he more than justified Mitt Romney's judgment in choosing him as running mate.

On substance, I called it a draw right after the debate (as did Wolf Blitzer and a few others on our CNN team). That was good news for both Biden and Ryan. The latter could claim credit for being one of the only two challengers who has ever fought a sitting vice president to at least a draw, the first being Al Gore against incumbent Dan Quayle in 1992.

Amusing moments during VP debate
Ryan: Romney cares about 100%
Biden, Ryan argue over Bush tax cuts
Ryan, Biden get personal on abortion

The CNN poll of registered voters who had watched the debate reached a similar conclusion: Forty-eight percent said Ryan won, 44% said Biden, though the difference was within the poll's margin of error. A CNN focus group thought it was a draw as well. (Note to candidates: What the focus group liked most was when Biden and Ryan said what their administrations would do to fix the economy. Could we possibly hear more of that in the remaining presidential debates?)

But there was another element to the debate that has aroused more controversy. As it did in the first presidential debate, CNN chose to show the two candidates on a split screen throughout the evening. (Good call). Watching that, I found Biden's frequent laughs at Ryan to be off-putting -- and indeed, condescending. That plus the interruptions were in stark contrast to Ryan's calm, even-keeled performance. So on style, I thought the edge went to Ryan.

Opinion: Feisty Biden, wonky Ryan

As often happens in these highly charged times, many Democrats sharply disagreed with that judgment on Twitter. They thought I along with some colleagues were jackasses (that is a very polite rephrasing of their language). Many cited a CBS poll after the election that found Biden a clear overall winner.

What was lost in translation is that the CBS poll was of uncommitted voters and the CNN poll of all registered voters. Recognizing there can be honest differences, I stand by my call -- Biden was overbearing in the early part of the debate and that diminished the impact of his arguments.

Taken altogether, the vice presidential debate did make a difference: Biden was able to help his boss out of the hole -- he helped to stabilize the race. But Ryan was able to keep the GOP fired up, too. Both campaigns now gallop forward, looking toward the next showdown this coming Tuesday night when CNN's Candy Crowley is the moderator. It's a close horse race with passions high, fans on their feet.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Gergen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 0730 GMT (1530 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT