The conventional wisdom seems to be that Joe Biden is going to be wiped out by Paul Ryan. Why? Because, the thinking goes, Joe Biden is everyone's lovable, but crazy, uncle. He is gaffe prone. He has never demonstrated any depth of knowledge of financal details.
On the other hand, Paul Ryan is the ultimate policy wonk, for whom an enjoyable evening is sitting reading the federal budget. His command of budgetary issues will show up Biden's lack of substance.
The Obama campaign is clearly worried. Biden has been pulled in for several hours of debate prep daily for nearly a week.
But perhaps Democrats are being overly cautious; Republican, overconfident. Both can learn from this lession from Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan's first debate of his reelection run in 1984 was a disaster. Some campaign staff coached him to master mounds of financial numbers and other statistics. But Reagan was not a detailed numbers guy.
The result? He stumbled. He looked uncertain, confused. He was off his game. And the dominent impression from the debate was "he's too old."
In preparation for the second debate, Deputy Chief of Staff Mike Deaver proclaimed, "Let Reagan be Reagan." The President followed the now-famous dictum and went back to doing what he did best: sharing his vision for America and connecting with the voters.
Here's what will bring victory Thursday night:
- Let Biden be Biden (but without the gaffes). Don't try to turn Biden into a statistician. Give him control of a couple of topics in which he sounds in control of key figures. Then let him do what he does best: relate to the needs of average Americans.
- Let Ryan be Ryan. But humanize him. Fewer numbers, more impact of those numbers on the average American. Demonstrate he knows people even better than numbers. More vision. Most viewers are no more excited about numbers than Reagan.
- Keep Ryan passionate, but not angry or testy. Follow the example of his running-mate, Mitt Romney, who, while assertive and energized and confident, was unfailingly pleasant in the way he responded. Because crazy or not, no one likes their uncle to be attacked.