With the Paul Ryan rally yesterday still fresh in my memory (details here), I drove to a Joe Biden event Friday morning in Sun City, Florida. It was a much smaller event and much more scripted. The crowd was sitting on folding chairs, not standing on grass, the stage was nearer, and the fact that the VP had a teleprompter was visible to all. It was also quieter.
Here are a few things to compare these two events:
Energy: The Ryan event wins hands down. A much larger and much more enthusiastic and committed crowd, armed with flags and signs, cheering, booing the other side, laughing, singing along. It was also a much younger audience, children and babies included. The Biden morning event was for people who can take the morning off - namely, older retirees. Not that they didn't show their support for the VP, they did, and the echo within the closed room made it seem louder. Nevertheless, I got the feeling of a more subdued response, shorter rounds of applause, less combative type of support.
In fact, the more enthusiastic group was to be found on the road leading to the event. All through South Pebble Beach Boulevard stood Romney-Ryan supporters, carrying signs, getting the attention of the passing drivers, seeming quite cheery. If these two events are indicative in any way - and I can't tell you they are until I get to see a couple more - the Romney camp seems more battle ready and more confident than the president's camp.
Message: Biden was Biden. After so many years and so many campaigns of all types, the VP is a well-known commodity who people either like or dislike. Biden has traveled to Florida 24 times since the beginning of his term, 11 of them this year. His ability to connect with this audience is high - higher than Ryan's still untested technics of national stage rallies. Biden's main topics: the economy, Medicare, jobs, health care, and a mix of the currently fashionable "women's issues". Ronald Brownstein remarked yesterday that, "much of the modern Democratic coalition — including minorities, young people, and socially liberal (primarily college-educated) white women — is attracted to the party primarily because of its views on noneconomic issues, from immigration to abortion".
Biden still talked a lot about economic issues, but more about Medicare and vouchers and health issues. The tweaking of the message toward more "cultural" issues is evident at this stage of the campaign. The Obama team is reading the same polls we all do, and is reaching the same conclusion: The president cannot win this on the economy.
Laughs: Biden is funnier. He is funnier than Ryan and I'm afraid he's even funnier than Dennis Miller - at least today he was. As I said, the mood at the Biden rally was not as combative as the Ryan rally, but the main speaker was more entertaining.
Women: At the Ryan event, I've noticed the only woman speaking got the honor of introducing the candidate. The Biden event was not only different, but went further. The woman speaking was a breast cancer survivor, hence a speaker even better tailored to convey Obama's message of a women-friendly presidency. Emphasizing the message was Biden's opening, in which he introduced his daughter, Ashley. "They do not believe in women's health", Biden said. It was right at the opening of his remarks and the VP delved into it with gusto. And, expectedly, the "binders" were not missing, and received the obligatory laughs.
Warm-up: Country singers win big over politicians, but to Biden's credit, he did not bore his crowd with as many warm-up speakers as Ryan. Biden's main warm-up was Senator Bill Nelson. And he was not bad. Slowly and methodically attempting to make the case for Obama's policies, essentially arguing that the opposition is standing for polarized tactics while Obama is the one rising above "pettiness" and offering pragmatic and rational solutions - a claim no one in the crowded room felt obliged to refute.
Best line: For Ryan, I think I'll settle on the empty chair quip. With Biden, my line of choice would be "when the woman doesn't get paid equally the family suffers". A smart way of turning the main Obama-Biden message into a something that isn't sectoral, but rather all encompassing. Another one: Biden seemingly reluctantly "corrects" the president - Romney's plans are not "sketchy", they are "Etch A Sketchy". Got him many laughs.
Foreign policy: I focus specifically on foreign policy for two reasons. One - I'm interested in the topic. Two - the foreign policy debate is coming soon. Interestingly, Biden avoided Libya and most other foreign policy issues. He did talk about Afghanistan, conveying the safe message of withdrawal. And he talked a lot about soldiers and veterans.
As I wrote earlier today, the Romney team seems to believe that the Libya issue - debate moment-of-hesitation aside - is one that benefits the GOP candidate and hurts Obama. And they are not alone. As I was waiting for Biden I had time to read a couple of articles by other commentators, and came across this paragraph from Charles Krauthammer: "Unfortunately for Obama, there is one more debate — next week — entirely on foreign policy. The burning issue will be Libya and the scandalous parade of fictions told by this administration to explain away the debacle". Is Biden's silence a sign that the Obama team has similar suspicions?
Check out Rosner's new book, The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney / A Jewish Voter's Guide