Joe Biden A "Happy Warrior" In Debate Prep

By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)

WASHINGTON (CBS) - There's one key difference between Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama when it comes to debate prep: One enjoys it, and the other doesn't.

"He's in a good mood, good shape, this is something he's done before, and he knows what he's doing," said former Delaware Senator Ted Kaufman, who has been helping to advise the vice president during the long hours in a Wilmington, Delaware hotel where they are getting ready for tomorrow's debate against Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan in Danville, Kentucky.

President Obama described debate prep as "a drag." But Biden's colleagues and friends say the former senator, who spent decades making arguments on the Senate floor, genuinely enjoys his practice sessions.

"He was a happy warrior," laughed former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm as she recalled helping Biden prepare for his one and only vice presidential debate in 2008.

"When I was a candidate, I hated debate prep with a passion," she continued. "So I was always struck by how game Joe Biden was about doing this. Because it's such an unpleasant task, to have to do debate prep, because it's standing there responding to people reading the worst opposition research memo about you. You have to hit them back, but he was totally game."

Granholm, who now hosts "The War Room" on Current TV, played the role of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in mock debates with Biden. "It's an interesting contrast between 2008 and this time," Granholm said. "Sarah Palin did not know all the policies inside the beltway, and Paul Ryan does. And of course Joe Biden does. So he can really take off the gloves, Biden can - as well as Ryan - and they're going to have a good knock-down, drag-out debate hopefully without dragging down their own favorability."

Biden's favorability ratings have taken a hit since he took on Palin four years ago, according to a new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Back then, 53 percent of voters polled viewed him favorably; today, 39 percent hold that view.

Kaufman said in some ways, tomorrow's debate has been easier to prepare for that the 2008 debate against Palin.

"I can remember when they wrote the memo for the 2008 debate with Governor Palin," he said. "The first sentence was, 'No presidential or vice presidential candidate in history has received more advice than Senator Biden has for his debate with Governor Palin.' And truer words were never spoken. I mean, people used to stop me on the street and say, 'I got an idea! I got an idea!' Lots of people - people I didn't even know."

Kaufman said the main challenge preparing for a debate with Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, has been that "you just don't know who's going to show up. The variability in the Romney/Ryan positions, and the creativity in terms of how it changes makes preparing for a debate very different."

The practice sessions have been taking place in a hotel ballroom that has been outfitted to look as much as the real debate stage as possible, down to the colors and podiums. Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the top democrat on the House Budget Committee, plays the role of Ryan and the two men take turns fielding questions.

Aides insist Biden isn't feeling extra pressure after Mr. Obama's disappointing showing in his first debate. "There really isn't much discussion about it," said one adviser, who called the practice sessions "workmanlike." The adviser added: "It really is not part of the calculus or the process."

Granholm has her own theory about the President's weak performance. "I bet that the strategy was to be presidential and to not draw the first blood, and you have to decide when you're debating, how much of the real estate you're going to spend on offense and how much you're going to spend on defense," she said.

Still, she predicts Biden will not make the same mistakes. "My experience in 2008 leads me to believe that he will feel a responsibility to point out the misstatements coming out of the Romney/Ryan campaign, and I think he'll enjoy that," said Granholm.

It's clear that Biden's running mate is expecting big things. In an interview with radio host Tom Joyner today, President Obama described himself as "too polite" in his debate, but predicted a strong performance from the Vice President. "Biden, I think, will be terrific in the debate this week," he said.

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