First two debates couldn't be more different

VP debate filled with intense moments

WASHINGTON (CNN) -  

The undercard might have outperformed the main event.

With both candidates seated feet from each other, Thursday's Kentucky showdown between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan was filled with moments of interruption, crosstalk and confrontation.

Biden was quick to interrupt Ryan, sometimes looking to the rafters or rolling his eyes as Ryan answered -- and occasionally laughed or smiled at the younger congressman's answers.

 

Ryan, on the other hand, regularly smirked at Biden, shook his head from time to time and, at one point, chided Biden for the interruptions.

This starkly contrasted last week's debate between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney -- a 90-minute session dominated by sweeping monologues at distant podiums. Obama was criticized for not confronting Romney.

Ryan and Biden spent 90 minutes trading punches. And while CNN's post-debate poll showed a slight edge for Ryan, the result was within the margin or error - meaning the event was effectively a draw.

The result, too, contrasted last week's debate -- a lopsided victory for Romney where Obama was criticized for being lethargic. Even the president admitted he had a "bad night."

Two debates, two remarkably different dynamics.

On Twitter and among the pundits, Biden was faulted for his interruptions. After being asked a question following the debate, CNN contributor and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos joked, "I have something important to say but I can't -- I'd be interrupted by Joe Biden."

Democrats spun the vice president's performance as authentic and accomplishing the goal of going after Ryan.

Republicans said Biden showed a lack of discipline when he interrupted. CNN contributor Mary Matalin labeled Biden a "buffoon."

"I do think Biden got too hot at some points, I think that made people uncomfortable," Van Jones, a former Obama White House adviser, acknowledged.

In one exchange, Ryan confronted Biden about the interruptions.

"Mr. Vice President, Mr. Vice President," said Ryan after answering a question about Medicare. "I know you are under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don't keep interrupting each other."

Apparently, Biden did make up some of the ground lost in the first debate.

CNN Chief National Correspondent John King pointed out that Democrats seemed happy with the vice president's performance.

"You hear this from Van, you hear this from Paul, you see it in your emails and if you look at the Twitterverse, Democrats have energy, there is passion, there is excitement, there is a lot of backslapping among Democrats," King said. "We had none of that after the Obama/Romney debate. We had silence and then you had worry."

For Republicans, Ryan came across as a forward-looking leader -- as evidenced by his closing statement, in which he spoke directly to the camera, defended his campaign's economic plan for the future and told the American people that they "deserve better."

"These elections are about the future," said Castellanos. "Who talked about that tonight? The only guy on that stage who really talked about the future was Paul Ryan. ... His closing statement will play after this debate."

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