DANVILLE, Ky. -- Welcome to the Joe Biden show, Paul Ryan.
The well-behaved 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman seemed like a spectator at his own national debut, as the voluble vice president delivered a forceful -- bordering on bombastic -- counterattack against a surging GOP ticket during Thursday's vice presidential debate.
It took Biden only a few minutes to do what President Barack Obama wouldn't or couldn't do in 90 ineffectual minutes last week: attack Mitt Romney on his "47 percent" video and bring up the GOP nominee's tax return.
But a little Biden can go a long way, and this was Joe by the gallon, smirking and shouting down a more measured -- if at times robotic -- Ryan, who clung to his campaign's talking points, especially on foreign policy, like a life preserver.
GOP consultant Alex Castellanos, tweeting as he watched the feisty exchanges, summed up the view of many observers on both sides: "Biden [is] irritating, but wouldn't be surprised if [O]bama base is liking him. [A]t least he's fighting for them, unlike Obama last week."
From the perspective of Democrats, Biden's domineering performance served a modest but vital purpose: staking out a more aggressive stance against the GOP ahead of the far more consequential second Obama-Romney showdown in Long Island on Tuesday. There were no obvious policy gaffes and in four days the undercard will soon be eclipsed by the top-of-the-bill fight.
"I don't think one event changes the state of the race," said Obama's senior campaign adviser David Axelrod, who was part of Biden's debate prep team.
"The vice president made a robust case for this administration, for an economic policy that has at its core rebuilding the middle class rather than the kind of top-down, trickle-down economics that we saw in the last decade, and I think it's important," he added. "But you know, there are going to be other debates and other events that I think will shape the race further."
The Biden-being-Biden tone of the night was established early.
Ryan opened with what seemed to be a scripted attack against the Obama administration's handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya last month.
"This Benghazi issue would be a tragedy in and of itself, but unfortunately it's indicative of a broader problem," Ryan said. "And that is what we are watching on our TV screens is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy."
Biden shot back with, "With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey."
Moderator Martha Raddatz asked, "And why is that so?"
"Because not a single thing he said is accurate," replied Biden, providing the kind of retort Democrats had expected Obama to provide during a flat first presidential debate.
But Biden, 27 years older than Ryan, seemed less mature and more out of control than the studious House Budget Committee chairman, who took pains to deliver his anecdotes and policy explanations slowly, even in a monotone.
Split screens showed Biden laughing, guffawing, wagging his head disapprovingly and almost always grinning -- derisively in most cases.
"I think the biggest takeaway for people is going to be Joe Biden's dental work tonight," Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said. "There's a time and a place for laughter and for jokes and this isn't it. I don't think it came across well."
Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said the campaign's focus groups gave Ryan an edge, in part based on what he viewed as Biden's over-the-top performance.
"I saw dial testing that showed that Paul scored very well in terms of making the case for our agenda," Gillespie said. "I think that most people probably found the vice president's performance a little -- well, anyway, I think that people will judge for themselves."
Biden's aggressive performance may have been grating, but he went into Thursday's debate with a slightly lower approval rating than the lesser-known Ryan.
The Obama campaign doesn't care if he's well-liked. They wanted him to shout past Ryan and hit Romney. And in the space of a minute, Biden managed to sum up the campaign's most effective attack lines against the Massachusetts governor.
"What did Romney do? [He] said, "Let Detroit go bankrupt," Biden intoned. "But it shouldn't be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. My friend [Ryan] 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."
Ryan, in his most pointed rejoinder of the night, defended Romney -- by referring to Biden's legendary penchant for gaffes.
"Mitt Romney's a good man. He cares about 100 percent of Americans in this country," he said. "And with respect to that [47 percent] quote, I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way."
After the laughter died down, Biden said: "But I always say what I mean. And so does Romney."
Curiously, both men struggled most in the areas assumed to be their greatest areas of expertise.
Raddatz, a veteran foreign correspondent, questioned Biden aggressively on the administration's widely varying statements about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens.
When she asked why the White House first claimed the assault was an offshoot of demonstrations against an anti-Muslim video, assertions that were later proven false, Biden blamed the administration's own intelligence agencies for supplying faulty information.
"The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment," he said. "That's why there's also an investigation headed by Tom Pickering, a leading diplomat from the Reagan years, who is doing an investigation as to whether or not there are any lapses, what the lapses were, so that they will never happen again."
Ryan, a budget guru who has criticized the administration's stimulus and health care spending, was called out for requesting stimulus funds for projects in his own district.
"He sent me two letters saying, 'By the way, can you send me some stimulus money for companies here in the state of Wisconsin?' We sent millions of dollars," Biden said.
"You did ask for stimulus money, correct?" Raddatz asked Ryan.
"On two occasions we -- we -- we advocated for constituents who were applying for grants," Ryan conceded. "That's what we do."
The Gazette now offers Facebook Comments on its stories. You must be logged into your Facebook account to add comments. If you do not want your comment to post to your personal page, uncheck the box below the comment. Comments deemed offensive by the moderators will be removed, and commenters who persist may be banned from commenting on the site.