Q & A: WKU debate coach analyzes vice presidential debate


Expectations were high on both sides of the political spectrum going into Thursday’s vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville.

However, post-debate polls and surveys go back-and-forth in terms of which vice presidential candidate came out victorious. A CNN survey of registered voters declared Republican candidate Paul Ryan the winner, saying he communicated more clearly than Democrat incumbent Joe Biden. In a CBS News online poll of uncommitted voters, 50 percent believed Biden won, 31 percent believed Ryan won, and the remainder believed the debate was a tie.

The Herald asked WKU debate coach Chris Joffrion to analyze the debate and share his thoughts. Below are Joffrions emailed answers.

Herald: Overall, what are your thoughts to how the VP debate went last night?

Joffrion: Overall I was impressed by both vice presidential candidates and their performance Thursday night. I think we saw from Vice President Biden a style very similar to what I wanted to see last week from Obama. Congressman Ryan did well too. I was impressed by his performance especially given that this was national debate debut. Going into the debate Thursday night, I expected a much more spirited performance than we had seen a week prior, and these candidates did not disappoint.

Herald: Who came out on top – Biden or Ryan?

Joffrion: I give the win Vice President Biden. The debate Thursday night was certainly much closer than the first presidential debate last week. While I think Biden bested Ryan, I could certainly see how some might disagree with me especially if you are swayed by presentation style.

Herald: How would you rank each candidate last night on a scale of one to 10 (one being totally bombed and 10 being completely perfect)?


Biden: 8.0 out of 10

Like I said above, Biden gave us the performance I wanted to see from Obama last week. Let’s start with where Biden shined. I think Biden probably went into the debate feeling the pressure to stall the momentum wave Romney and Ryan had been riding following the first debate, and I would bet Biden relished the pressure. He has never been one to shy away from a good fight. Biden gave us exactly what we all missed from Obama. He was assertive, aggressive, and was on the attack. In fact, at one point during the debate I referred to Biden as Joe “the Bulldog” Biden. I was also very impressed with how Biden connected with the audience. Several times he spoke right into the camera, and you almost got the feeling he was speaking right to you. The personal touches like asking voters who they trusted more on social security, Medicare, and Medicaid were very effective, but I’m not sure if they were enough offset Biden’s potentially off-putting demeanor. Personally, it didn’t bother me in the least. I might even go so far as to say I enjoyed “the Bulldog’s” overly aggressive style. Even when Biden wasn’t speaking you knew exactly when he thought Ryan was full of “malarkey” which we now all know is Irish for “stuff,” but I guess that could have been a little much for some more sensitive viewers and as a vice presidential candidate it might better not to isolate the sensitive viewers who like their politicians a little more reserved. So, I’m deducting a few points from Biden’s rating for being a little over the top at times.

Ryan: 7 out of 10

A 7 out of 10 is a good solid score, but it’s nothing exceptional. Ryan did succeed in keeping his cool and staying calm in the face of almost constant attack from Joe Biden. That in itself should be seen as a minor victory for the untested Ryan. For those who prefer their politicians seem calm, cool, and collected (everything Biden wasn’t) Ryan’s performance was likely far more appealing. Ryan also showed that he has a future on the national stage with poised solid responses to most questions. So, why am I giving the newcomer only 7 out of 10? First, the GOP candidate was still light on the specifics. Once again the GOP strategy seemed to be to once again explain what their plan ISN’T without telling us what their plan IS. I’m starting to get a pretty good picture of what a Romney White House wouldn’t look like. It wouldn’t be anything that Obama and Biden want you to think it would be, but when it clarifying what their plans are Ryan just followed the script started by Romney a week earlier. “That’s not what we are going to do,” is about as specific as we are going to get it seems. Where else did Ryan come up short? Well regardless of what you think of the Ryan answer on abortion he committed the biggest sin a VP candidate can possibly commit. He contradicted his presidential partner. Prior to the debate Romney had said he had no plans to make abortion illegal. That’s not the story we got from Ryan. All in all, for a first time debater Ryan was pretty good. I expect a lot out of him in the future.

Herald: Did you find the moderator for the debate better than last week’s presidential debate?

Joffrion: I think Martha Radditz moderated circles around Jim Lehrer. When I heard the VP debate was going to follow the same format we saw a week prior in the first presidential debate, I seriously considered not even watching, but I think Radditz saved the largely unstructured format. Radditz stayed involved, prodded the candidates with follow up questions, and kept the candidates more on topic than Lehrer was able to do. In short, Radditz actually moderated.

Herald: Many pundits have noted that Ryan had the upper hand coming into last night’s debate after Romney’s extremely successful face-off with Obama. Which party is going to have an upper hand walking into the next presidential debate?

Joffrion: The short answer is neither. Romney’s routing of Obama gave the GOP ticket a major momentum boost. Nate Silver of the Five Thirtyeight blog increased Romney’s chance of winning the electoral college vote from around 15% prior to the first debate to over 25% in the days following the debate. Biden’s mission was to stall this advance, and I think he did that. However, the face-off between Biden and Ryan was much closer than the bout a week earlier. So, I wouldn’t say that Biden swung the momentum in favor of him and Obama, but I think he did achieve his objective. Next week, however, Obama is going to have to show that he learned his lesson after his first outing, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a very different Obama next time. Incumbent losses in the first round of debates after all is nothing new. In fact, President Clinton’s victory over Bob Dole in their first face off is the only time in recent history an incumbent president has won his first debate against the challenger.