King: VP debate no game-changer, but could shift momentum

(CNN) — Yes, the debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan is sure to be entertaining, and it comes at an important moment in a highly competitive presidential campaign. But let’s not get carried away.

Some healthy context, courtesy of Republican pollster Whit Ayres: “Dan Quayle got his clock cleaned in his VP debate and still ended up as vice president.”

That’s because Americans pick presidents on Election Day, not vice presidents.

Will nervous tics and trips of the tongue fell veep candidates?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talk with supporters at Buns Bakery and Restaurant in Delaware, Ohio, on Wednesday, October 10. Romney is campaigning in Ohio with less than a month to go before the general election.Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talk with supporters at Buns Bakery and Restaurant in Delaware, Ohio, on Wednesday, October 10. Romney is campaigning in Ohio with less than a month to go before the general election.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney walk up to the stage at Ariel Corporation in Mount Vernon, Ohio, on Wednesday.New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney walk up to the stage at Ariel Corporation in Mount Vernon, Ohio, on Wednesday.

Centre College students Ben Boone, left, a stand-in for U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and Tommy Munoz, a stand-in for Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, wave during a rehearsal for the vice presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky, on Wednesday.Centre College students Ben Boone, left, a stand-in for U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and Tommy Munoz, a stand-in for Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, wave during a rehearsal for the vice presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky, on Wednesday.

Members of the media watch as President Barack Obama arrives aboard Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday, October 9, in Washington. The president was returning from a two-day campaign trip to California and Ohio.Members of the media watch as President Barack Obama arrives aboard Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday, October 9, in Washington. The president was returning from a two-day campaign trip to California and Ohio.

President Barack Obama addresses supporters during a campaign event at The Ohio State University on Tuesday.President Barack Obama addresses supporters during a campaign event at The Ohio State University on Tuesday.

Two Obama supporters, one holding a Big Bird book and the other clutching a picture of the president, listen while he speaks at a rally at Ohio State on Tuesday.Two Obama supporters, one holding a Big Bird book and the other clutching a picture of the president, listen while he speaks at a rally at Ohio State on Tuesday.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney departs a Wendy's restaurant with his dinner order in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, on Tuesday. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney departs a Wendy’s restaurant with his dinner order in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, on Tuesday.

Supporters cheer as Romney delivers remarks on the James Koch Farm in Van Meter, Iowa, on Tuesday.Supporters cheer as Romney delivers remarks on the James Koch Farm in Van Meter, Iowa, on Tuesday.

Allan Banojakedjian, left, and Jesus Romero fill out their voter registration forms at the Miami-Dade Elections Department on the final day of registration for the upcoming presidential election.Allan Banojakedjian, left, and Jesus Romero fill out their voter registration forms at the Miami-Dade Elections Department on the final day of registration for the upcoming presidential election.

Rain doesn't keep Romney from campaigning in Newport News, Virginia, on Monday, October 8.Rain doesn’t keep Romney from campaigning in Newport News, Virginia, on Monday, October 8.

Obama holds a campaign event Monday at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.Obama holds a campaign event Monday at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.

Obama takes the stage at a campaign concert at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, October 7. The president has been on a three-day trip to California and Ohio.Obama takes the stage at a campaign concert at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, October 7. The president has been on a three-day trip to California and Ohio.

Air Force One leaves a shadow as it passes over the Forum on approach to Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday.Air Force One leaves a shadow as it passes over the Forum on approach to Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday.

Obama leaves the White House on Sunday to board Air Force One.Obama leaves the White House on Sunday to board Air Force One.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, greet workers at the Tin Fish restaurant following a rally Sunday in Port St. Lucie, Florida.Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, greet workers at the Tin Fish restaurant following a rally Sunday in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Romney casts a shadow on a banner as he speaks during a campaign event in Apopka, Florida, on Saturday, October 6.Romney casts a shadow on a banner as he speaks during a campaign event in Apopka, Florida, on Saturday, October 6.

A supporter holds a photograph of Romney in Apopka on Saturday.A supporter holds a photograph of Romney in Apopka on Saturday.

Jon Bon Jovi performs at an Obama for America event at the House of Blues in Las Vegas on Saturday. It was the last day people in Nevada could register to vote in the upcoming presidential election.Jon Bon Jovi performs at an Obama for America event at the House of Blues in Las Vegas on Saturday. It was the last day people in Nevada could register to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

Romney speaks during a campaign event in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Friday, October 5.Romney speaks during a campaign event in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Friday, October 5.

Romney supporters listen during Friday's campaign event in St. Petersburg.Romney supporters listen during Friday’s campaign event in St. Petersburg.

Obama smiles as he speaks during a campaign rally in Fairfax, Virginia on Friday.Obama smiles as he speaks during a campaign rally in Fairfax, Virginia on Friday.

Obama is assisted with putting on a raincoat onstage during a campaign rally at Cleveland State University on Friday.Obama is assisted with putting on a raincoat onstage during a campaign rally at Cleveland State University on Friday.

Romney speaks in Fishersville, Virginia, as Secret Service members keep guard on Thursday, October 4. A day after the first presidential debate in Denver, Romney headed to Virginia to continue campaigning.Romney speaks in Fishersville, Virginia, as Secret Service members keep guard on Thursday, October 4. A day after the first presidential debate in Denver, Romney headed to Virginia to continue campaigning.

Romney supporters bow their heads in prayer during Thursday's event at the Augusta Expoland in Fishersville, Viriginia.Romney supporters bow their heads in prayer during Thursday’s event at the Augusta Expoland in Fishersville, Viriginia.

Obama addresses the crowd at the University of Wisconsin in Madison on Thursday.Obama addresses the crowd at the University of Wisconsin in Madison on Thursday.

Romney greets police officers before boarding his campaign plane in Denver on Thursday.Romney greets police officers before boarding his campaign plane in Denver on Thursday.

Obama speaks at a campaign rally in Denver on Thursday. He accused his Republican challenger of dishonesty over tax policy and other issues brought up in Wednesday night's presidential debate.Obama speaks at a campaign rally in Denver on Thursday. He accused his Republican challenger of dishonesty over tax policy and other issues brought up in Wednesday night’s presidential debate.

Audience members cheer as Obama makes his way onto the stage at Sloan's Lake Park in Denver on Thursday.Audience members cheer as Obama makes his way onto the stage at Sloan’s Lake Park in Denver on Thursday.

Reporters watch the final minutes of the debate between Romney and Obama in Denver on Wednesday, October 3. The first of four debates for the 2012 election -- three presidential and one vice-presidential -- was moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS.Reporters watch the final minutes of the debate between Romney and Obama in Denver on Wednesday, October 3. The first of four debates for the 2012 election — three presidential and one vice-presidential — was moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS.

A member of the U.S. Secret Service keeps watch from the top of a building as Obama takes part in a debate walk-through at the University of Denver on Wednesday. A member of the U.S. Secret Service keeps watch from the top of a building as Obama takes part in a debate walk-through at the University of Denver on Wednesday.

A seat is assigned to first lady Michelle Obama prior to Wednesday's debate.A seat is assigned to first lady Michelle Obama prior to Wednesday’s debate.

Obama stands at the podium as he speaks during the debate on Wednesday.Obama stands at the podium as he speaks during the debate on Wednesday.

Michelle and Barack Obama, left, join Mitt Romney and his family at the conclusion of the first presidential debate.Michelle and Barack Obama, left, join Mitt Romney and his family at the conclusion of the first presidential debate.

University of Denver student Sam Garry sits at the moderator's desk before a presidential debate dress rehearsal at the University of Denver on Tuesday, October 2. University of Denver student Sam Garry sits at the moderator’s desk before a presidential debate dress rehearsal at the University of Denver on Tuesday, October 2.

Volunteers sit in for on-air television reporters on Tuesday in preparation for the first presidential debate in the Ritchie Center at the University of Denver.Volunteers sit in for on-air television reporters on Tuesday in preparation for the first presidential debate in the Ritchie Center at the University of Denver.

Romney greets a father and his daughter after having lunch Tuesday at a restaurant in Denver.Romney greets a father and his daughter after having lunch Tuesday at a restaurant in Denver.

Obama stares at the Hoover Dam in Nevada during a visit Tuesday.Obama stares at the Hoover Dam in Nevada during a visit Tuesday.

Romney boards his campaign plane in Bedford, Massachusetts, on Monday, October 1. The Republican candidate was heading to Denver for the first presidential debate on Wednesday.Romney boards his campaign plane in Bedford, Massachusetts, on Monday, October 1. The Republican candidate was heading to Denver for the first presidential debate on Wednesday.

Obama hugs Chasstiry Vazquez after she indroduced him at a campaign event at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas on Sunday, September 30.Obama hugs Chasstiry Vazquez after she indroduced him at a campaign event at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas on Sunday, September 30.

Obama supporters cheer during Sunday's event in Las Vegas.Obama supporters cheer during Sunday’s event in Las Vegas.

Romney leaves his campaign headquarters in Boston on Sunday.Romney leaves his campaign headquarters in Boston on Sunday.

A boy reaches out to shake hands with Obama on Sunday in Las Vegas. The president was in Nevada ahead of Wednesday's presidential debate in Denver.A boy reaches out to shake hands with Obama on Sunday in Las Vegas. The president was in Nevada ahead of Wednesday’s presidential debate in Denver.

Romney arrives at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Belmont to attend Sunday services.Romney arrives at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Belmont to attend Sunday services.

Obama talks on the phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office on Friday, September 28.Obama talks on the phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office on Friday, September 28.

Romney speaks during a rally at Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Pennsylvania on Friday.Romney speaks during a rally at Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Pennsylvania on Friday.

Romney talks to journalists aboard his campaign plane about his phone call with Netanyahu on Friday.Romney talks to journalists aboard his campaign plane about his phone call with Netanyahu on Friday.

Cadets listen to Romney speak at a campaign rally Friday at the Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne, Pennsylvania.Cadets listen to Romney speak at a campaign rally Friday at the Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

Romney addresses Friday's rally at the Valley Forge Military Academy and College.Romney addresses Friday’s rally at the Valley Forge Military Academy and College.

Vice President Joe Biden hugs U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, as he arrives for a campaign event Friday in Boca Raton, Florida.Vice President Joe Biden hugs U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, as he arrives for a campaign event Friday in Boca Raton, Florida.

Romney speaks at a Veterans for Romney campaign event in Springfield, Virginia, on Thursday, September 27.Romney speaks at a Veterans for Romney campaign event in Springfield, Virginia, on Thursday, September 27.

Obama supporters cheer at a campaign rally Thursday in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Obama supporters cheer at a campaign rally Thursday in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Veterans at the American Legion Post 176 pray before Romney speaks Thursday in Springfield.Veterans at the American Legion Post 176 pray before Romney speaks Thursday in Springfield.

People listen to Obama speak at the Farm Bureau Live arena in Virginia Beach on Thursday.People listen to Obama speak at the Farm Bureau Live arena in Virginia Beach on Thursday.

Obama delivers remarks Thursday in Virginia Beach.Obama delivers remarks Thursday in Virginia Beach.

Supporters cheer as Romney speaks at SeaGate Convention Centre in Toledo, Ohio, on Wednesday, September 26. Supporters cheer as Romney speaks at SeaGate Convention Centre in Toledo, Ohio, on Wednesday, September 26.

Romney speaks during a roundtable discussion on manufacturing at American Spring Wire in Bedford Heights, Ohio, on Wednesday.Romney speaks during a roundtable discussion on manufacturing at American Spring Wire in Bedford Heights, Ohio, on Wednesday.

Supporters wait to see Obama on Wednesday at Toledo Express Airport in Bowling Green, Ohio. Air For One aborted an initial landing attempt in Ohio due to weather conditions.Supporters wait to see Obama on Wednesday at Toledo Express Airport in Bowling Green, Ohio. Air For One aborted an initial landing attempt in Ohio due to weather conditions.

Obama addresses supporters at Bowling Green State University on Wednesday.Obama addresses supporters at Bowling Green State University on Wednesday.

Romney delivers remarks during a campaign rally Wednesday at Westerville South High School in Westerville, Ohio.Romney delivers remarks during a campaign rally Wednesday at Westerville South High School in Westerville, Ohio.

Former President Bill Clinton introduces Obama during the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York on Tuesday, September 25.Former President Bill Clinton introduces Obama during the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York on Tuesday, September 25.

Supporters cheer during a Republican campaign rally Tuesday with Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, at Dayton International Airport in Vandalia, Ohio.Supporters cheer during a Republican campaign rally Tuesday with Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, at Dayton International Airport in Vandalia, Ohio.

Ryan speaks Tuesday in Vandalia as Sen. Rand Paul, from left, Sen. Rob Portman and Romney listen.Ryan speaks Tuesday in Vandalia as Sen. Rand Paul, from left, Sen. Rob Portman and Romney listen.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hugs a waitress as they wait for Ryan's arrival during a campaign stop at a restaurant in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood on Saturday, September 22.Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hugs a waitress as they wait for Ryan’s arrival during a campaign stop at a restaurant in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood on Saturday, September 22.

Supporters cheer as they listen to Romney speak during a Juntos Con Romney Rally at the Darwin Fuchs Pavilion on Wednesday, September 19, in Miami.Supporters cheer as they listen to Romney speak during a Juntos Con Romney Rally at the Darwin Fuchs Pavilion on Wednesday, September 19, in Miami.

Romney shakes hands with supporters during the Juntos Con Romney Rally in Miami on Wednesday.Romney shakes hands with supporters during the Juntos Con Romney Rally in Miami on Wednesday.

Obama and David Letterman speak during a break in the taping of the Late Show with David Letterman on Tuesday, September 18, at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York.Obama and David Letterman speak during a break in the taping of the “Late Show with David Letterman” on Tuesday, September 18, at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York.

A crew member opens the door to Air Force One after the jet arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on Tuesday.A crew member opens the door to Air Force One after the jet arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on Tuesday.

From left to right: Romney, his wife Ann, and son Tagg watch one of Tagg's sons play soccer in Belmont, Massachusetts, on Saturday, September 15.From left to right: Romney, his wife Ann, and son Tagg watch one of Tagg’s sons play soccer in Belmont, Massachusetts, on Saturday, September 15.

 Ryan arrives onstage to address the Family Research Council Action Values Voter Summit on Friday, September 14. Ryan arrives onstage to address the Family Research Council Action Values Voter Summit on Friday, September 14.

Supporters wait for Romney to speak at a campaign rally at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, on Friday, September 14.Supporters wait for Romney to speak at a campaign rally at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, on Friday, September 14.

Obama arrives at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Thursday, September 13. Obama returned to Washington after a two-day campaign trip with events in Nevada and Colorado.Obama arrives at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Thursday, September 13. Obama returned to Washington after a two-day campaign trip with events in Nevada and Colorado.

Supporters cheer as Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Fairfax, Virginia, on Thursday.Supporters cheer as Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Fairfax, Virginia, on Thursday.

An Obama supporter attends a rally in Las Vegas on Wednesday, September 12. Obama focused on economic policies during his two days of campaigning in Nevada and Colorado.An Obama supporter attends a rally in Las Vegas on Wednesday, September 12. Obama focused on economic policies during his two days of campaigning in Nevada and Colorado.

Former President Bill Clinton speaks in support of Obama during a campaign stop in Miami on Tuesday, September 11.Former President Bill Clinton speaks in support of Obama during a campaign stop in Miami on Tuesday, September 11.

Obama is lifted up by Scott Van Duzer, owner of Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Italian Restaurant, during a visit to the restaurant in Fort Pierce, Florida, on Sunday, September 9. Obama was on a two-day bus tour across the state.Obama is lifted up by Scott Van Duzer, owner of Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Italian Restaurant, during a visit to the restaurant in Fort Pierce, Florida, on Sunday, September 9. Obama was on a two-day bus tour across the state.

President Obama greets supporters during a campaign stop at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Sunday.President Obama greets supporters during a campaign stop at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Sunday.

Mitt Romney walks through the garage area during a rain delay before the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday, September 8, in Richmond, Virginia. Mitt Romney walks through the garage area during a rain delay before the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday, September 8, in Richmond, Virginia.

Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, waves to the crowd before speaking at a rally in Leesburg, Virginia, on Friday, September 7.Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, waves to the crowd before speaking at a rally in Leesburg, Virginia, on Friday, September 7.

Supporters try to stay dry in between rain showers while waiting for President Obama to speak at the University of Iowa on Friday. It was Obama's first day of campaigning after accepting the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.Supporters try to stay dry in between rain showers while waiting for President Obama to speak at the University of Iowa on Friday. It was Obama’s first day of campaigning after accepting the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A girl listens to President Obama speak at the University of Iowa on Friday.A girl listens to President Obama speak at the University of Iowa on Friday.

Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama, President Obama and Biden's wife, Jill, wave after Friday's campaign event at the University of Iowa.Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama, President Obama and Biden’s wife, Jill, wave after Friday’s campaign event at the University of Iowa.


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Photos: From the campaign trailPhotos: From the campaign trail


Debating Paul Ryan


‘Dead Fred’ takes seat at VP debate


Pressure on Biden and Ryan in debate

For all the hype, there is scant evidence of a game-changing vice presidential debate in our political history and plenty of reason to believe there is but one overriding challenge.

“The key for both VP candidates is to come across as competent potential presidents,” said Ayres. “If they pass that test, then they have done their jobs.”

Still, given the moment, even Ayres concedes Thursday night’s showdown does matter some.

“A great performance by Ryan will keep Republican momentum going and will help his post-2012 political career,” he said. “But it’s not likely to have a large impact on the presidential race one way or another.”

That view — the belief any impact will be limited — is in part based on the history of debates, and in part on the timing of this one: President Obama and Mitt Romney stage their second debate just a few days after their running mates get their one debate spotlight.

So, the men atop the ticket will yield the stage only briefly.

Still, both sides have clear goals for the Biden-Ryan face-off.

CNN exclusive: How Ryan sharpens debate skills

“Our sense is it matters a lot, and that it is an opportunity,” said a top Romney adviser who spoke to CNN only on condition of anonymity because the campaign’s public line is to play down expectations.

This Romney adviser played up the generational contrast, suggesting voters in Ryan’s demographic — 30 years old to 50 years old — voice “the brunt of the economic angst” over the job market, housing prices and America’s competitive standing in the global economy.

“Ryan knows this story really well,” the Romney adviser said. “He is our generational argument up against Biden’s experience and age. Ryan should play well in this key demographic, and he knows how to have this conversation.”

Democrats, though, see an opportunity to make political gains by highlighting controversial aspects of the budget plan Ryan wrote for House Republicans.

“There are still a lot of questions about how Romney would integrate Ryan’s budget plan,” said Democratic pollster Margie Omero. “There is no greater way to illustrate the difference between the two camps on fighting for the middle class than with a debate between Ryan and Biden.”

Share your questions for the candidates

Omero’s big question: “How will Ryan talk about his proposed cuts to the safety net?” She also wonders what will happen “if Ryan gets testy” defending his plan, voicing Democratic hopes that Biden can put his GOP opponent back on his heels.

Democratic hopes for an aggressive Biden performance are amplified because of the at times lackluster showing Obama turned in during his first showdown with Romney.

Even Obama allies concede the president was hardly at his best, and that he left several potential openings on the table.

If nothing else, what Democrats want most from Biden is a morale boost.

Republican morale is on an upswing at the moment and they hope for a strong Ryan showing to keep their spirits high heading into the far more important Obama-Romney debates.

A top Romney campaign aide framed it this way when asked how much the VP debate mattered: “A little,” this aide said. “It can continue our momentum and the Obama slide, or it can settle the waters.”

Obama on debate: ‘I was just too polite’



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