NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan hammered each other early and often Thursday night in Kentucky on taxes, the economy and foreign policy.
It was a debate, marked by combativeness, interruptions and clear differences on policy.
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The candidates shared a warm handshake and then retreated to their respective corners to try to eviscerate each other.
Although he pointedly referred to congressman Ryan as “my friend” several times, Biden came out swinging trying desperately to regain the momentum for the Democratic ticket after President Barack Obama’s much-criticized performance against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
“I know you’re under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don’t interrupt each other,” Ryan said at one point.
But Ryan showed he had a mean right hook of his own. The goal of the 42-year-old lawmaker was to keep pace with the far more experienced 69-year-old vice president and maintain the momentum following the first debate, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
The two clashed on the economy with Ryan lambasting the Obama administration for failing to create more jobs.
There was also an exchange in which Ryan pressed Biden about jobs, saying unemployment in the vice president’s hometown of Scranton, Pa., had actually gone up from 8.5 percent to 10 percent.
Biden parried, saying a Romney administration would hurt the middle class at the expense of the rich.
“My friend recently in a speech in Washington said 30 percent of the American people are takers. These people are my mom and dad — the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Gov. Romney pays in his federal income tax,” Biden said.
The pair also clashed bitterly about the Romney tax plan and on the bread and butter issues of Social Security and Medicare.
Ryan said in the debate’s opening moments that U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens had been denied sufficient security by administration officials. Stevens died in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
“Not a single thing he said is accurate,” Democrat Biden shot back.
Republicans and Democrats alike have said in recent days the presidential race now approximates the competitive situation in place before the two political conventions. The two men are generally separated by a point or two in national public opinion polls and in several battleground states, with Obama holding a slender lead in Ohio and Wisconsin.
Both the president and Romney campaigned in battleground states during the day before ceding the spotlight to their political partners for the evening.
In Kentucky, Biden and Ryan seemed primed for a showdown from their opening moments on stage, and neither seemed willing to let the other have the final word. They interrupted each other repeatedly — and moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC as well.
Across 90 minutes, the two men agreed precisely once.
That was when Ryan, referring to the war in Afghanistan, said the calendar was the same each year. Biden agreed to that, but not to the underlying point, which was that it was a mistake for Obama to have announced a date for the withdrawal of the remainder of the U.S. combat troops.
The fiercest clash over foreign policy came in the debate’s opening moments, when Ryan cited events across the Middle East as well as Stevens’ death in Libya as evidence that the administration’s foreign policy was unraveling. The Republican also said the administration had failed to give Stevens the same level of protection as the U.S. ambassador in Paris receives.
Biden rebutted by saying that the budget that Ryan authored as chairman of the House Budget Committee had cut the administration’s funding request for diplomatic security by $300 million.
For all their differences, the two men shared a common objective, to advance the cause of their tickets in a close race for the presidency — and avoid a gaffe that might forever seal their place in the history of debates.
Next week is the second debate for Obama and Romney, who will tangle at Hofstra University on Tuesday.
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