DANVILLE, Ky. — At odds early and often, Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan squabbled over the economy, taxes, Medicare and more Thursday night in a contentious, interruption-filled debate. "That is a bunch of malarkey," the vice president retorted after a particularly tough Ryan attack on the administration's foreign policy.
"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 later scolded his rival, referring to Democratic pressure on Biden to make up for President Barack Obama's listless performance in last week's debate with Mitt Romney.
There was nothing listless this time as the 69-year-old Biden sat next to the 42-year old Wisconsin congressman on a stage at Centre College in Kentucky.
Nearly 90 minutes after the initial disagreement over foreign policy, the two men were still at it, clashing sharply over rival approaches to reducing federal deficits.
"The president likes to say he has a plan," said Ryan, a seven-term congressman. But in fact "he gave a speech" and never backed it up with details.
Biden conceded Republicans indeed had a plan. But he said that if enacted it would have "eviscerated all the things the middle class care about," including cutting health care programs and education.
As Biden and Ryan well knew, last week's presidential debate has fueled a Republican comeback in opinion polls.
Republicans and Democrats alike have said in recent days the presidential race now approximates the competitive situation in place before the two political conventions. Obama and Romney are generally separated by a point or two in national public opinion polls and in several battleground states, while the president holds a slender lead in Ohio and Wisconsin.