Vice President Joe Biden met his challenger, Rep. Paul Ryan, Thursday night in Danville, Kentucky, for the vice presidential debate. CNN contributors and analysts offered these assessments of the evening:
Timothy Stanley: Debate was sports bar vs. seminar
This was a strange debate, even an ugly one. The two men looked like they were taking part in separate discussions. Ryan was speaking in the economics seminar at some obscure think tank. Biden was shouting answers in the middle of a loud sports bar.
The tone was so uneven that the candidates seemed to find each other's presence a nuisance -- Biden laughed his way through Ryan's answers and Ryan was often visibly irritated. The most surreal moment was when Biden picked a fight with the moderator, Martha Raddatz, about the Afghanistan War. We've never seen him this pugnacious.
Overall, it was a draw. Liberals will probably appreciate that Biden did what Obama failed to do last week: He took the debate to the Republicans and called out their "malarkey." But moderate voters might take offense at his combative tone, which often bordered on rude. By contrast, Ryan's softer, more wonkish style might strike floating voters as weak. But he could also score among those looking for calm and reason rather than heated rhetoric.
Biden excelled when attacking Ryan on Romney's flip-flops and failure to commit to specific spending cuts. Ryan excelled when talking about his beloved Medicare and tax plans. Both men displayed thoughtfulness and humanity in the question of abortion, which pitted different traditions of Catholicism against one another.
Ryan said his faith and his public policy were inseparable; Biden refused to compel others to adhere to Catholic doctrine. Again, how the voter reacts to those answers will depend on their prejudices. This debate wasn't about persuasion. It was about drawing contrasts and playing to the cameras. As a result, it probably wasn't the game changer that either side was looking for.
Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."
Paul Begala: Biden's "malarkey" line sums it up
I sometimes think the definition of a Democrat is someone who is afraid to take his own side in a fight.
With that one word, spoken in the opening minutes of the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden signaled he was fighting back. Biden gave the Democrats the debate they needed. He grabbed Paul Ryan by the scruff of his neck and gave him a thorough thrashing.
Biden pounced on Ryan for seeking to cut funding for embassy security, even as he played politics with the terror attack on our consulate in Benghazi. The Malarkey Moment surprised Ryan and energized Biden. Perhaps smelling blood in the water, Biden kept Ryan on his heels for the rest of the evening.
Ryan gulped water as Biden spoke, and Biden smiled (sometimes you could tell it was forced) as Ryan talked. And for all the times they called each other "my friend" and said, "with all due respect," both candidates had a tone of exasperation at times.
Biden hammered Ryan and Romney for sneering at a giant percentage of Americans. Ryan has called as many as 40% of our fellow citizens "takers." Yet he more than once spoke of his family's dependence on Social Security and Medicare. Biden wouldn't let him get away with it. Finally, it got to Ryan, who snarled, "I know you're under a lot of duress." Whoa, sonny-boy, watch the snark. You're getting your butt kicked, and it shows.
The Obama campaign released a photo of President Obama watching the debate. Good. The president was criticized for being too passive in the first debate. Some may criticize Biden for being too aggressive in this one. So be it. But I loved his performance, and I bet the president did as well.
Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, is senior adviser to Priorities USA Action, the biggest super PAC favoring President Barack Obama's re-election. Begala was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.
Ana Navarro: What Obama could learn from Biden
I'm a Republican pundit. I'm supposed to write that Paul Ryan crushed Joe Biden and turned him into dust in tonight's debate. But I've accidentally consumed some truth serum. I saw this as draw. Both Biden and Ryan were prepared, well practiced and brought their A game to the table. The campaign spinners are going to make the case their respective candidates won. In my book, they both scored victories.
Biden won because unlike President Obama in the first debate, Biden did not clearly, unequivocally lose. He stopped the bleeding for his camp. Had Biden followed in Obama's example and given a lackluster performance, it would have been the fatal blow. Instead, Obama lives to fight another day.
Ryan also came out victorious. He shared the stage with a sitting vice president and one of he most veteran politicians in America and held his own. Ryan went toe to toe with the vice president, even when discussing foreign policy, Biden's strength. Despite his youth, Ryan looked vice presidential. He debated a man who could easily be his father, but they sat there as equals and on even footing.
Neither of them blinked or ceded an inch. Both of them came armed with facts and figures but also gave us a view into their personal side. This was a good debate for Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, and also for the American people. We got to see the two sides passionately advocate distinct positions. There is no muddled gray area here.
Folks, buckle up! We have a tight race in our hands. The vice presidential debate has made the next presidential debate that much more crucial. If President Obama hopes to reverse the tide, he could stand to learn a few lessons from his vice president. For starters, show up not only in body, but also in soul. Engage your opponent, better yet, look at him. Challenge the statements you think are inaccurate. Don't leave opportunities on the table. Don't just stand at the plate; swing at the balls pitched at you.
Joe Biden was being compared to President Obama in the first debate. He vastly outperformed him. Paul Ryan was being compared to Joe Biden, and he stood his ground. The ball now goes back to Romney and Obama's court. A few months ago, some Democrats were fretting about whether it would be better to replace Biden on the ticket. If President Obama doesn't come out swinging and deliver an energetic performance in the next debate, Democrats might find themselves wondering if the wrong guy isn't on the top of the ticket.
Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and commentator, served as national Hispanic campaign chairwoman for John McCain in 2008 and national Hispanic co-chair for Jon Huntsman's 2012 campaign. Follow her on Twitter @ananavarro.