The presidential race tightened in the week following the first debate. So, the stakes were high Thursday night when Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan faced off in the campaign’s only vice presidential debate. Each candidate tried to show his command of the facts, but but this is politics, so to what extent were the candidates selecting those facts to make their ideas look better? WFAE political analyst Michael Bitzer talks to Morning Edition host Duncan McFadyen.
BITZER: Well, of course as we say in war, the first casualty usually is the truth. I think this campaign will probably set a record for fact-checkers having to do their work above and beyond what is normally required. Certainly the candidates are going to use the spin, and both candidates came out and presented selective facts to bolster their not only support of their particular issues and ideas, but also to attack the other side. So, this isn’t something unusual, but it certainly reached, I think, a whole new level in this year’s campaign.
MCFADYEN: Last week, we talked about the presidential debate, and whether debates even have an impact on races. Does the vice presidential debate matter?
BITZER: I think it usually does not matter. Usually, people are much more focused on the top of the ticket. But I think this debate last night really helped the Obama campaign to kind of stem the tide of concern over that first presidential debate. I mean, realistically, we tend to see whoever was leading in the polls before the debates come out of the debates still leading in the race. But this year, it is such a tight race. I think Vice President Biden was really able to get the energy level back into the campaign and to show the fight that Democrats were wanting the president to do in his first debate.
MCFADYEN: So, lot of people said the vice president needed to “stop the bleeding” last night. Do you think he was able to do that?
BITZER: I certainly think so. I think somebody gave Joe Biden a shot of adrenaline of some kind and they were probably thinking, “maybe that’s what we should’ve used for President Obama in the first debate.” He certainly came out---he’s a good debater, he knows his facts, he knows his style. The only thing that kind of I think may have rubbed people the wrong way was his constant interruption. But this was a true debate. I mean, if we were looking for this kind of debate, we got it last night between the vice president and Representative Ryan.
MCFADYEN: Last night’s moderator, ABC’s Martha Raddatz, do you think she did a better job of moving the discussion along. She seemed like she was more engaged with the two candidates.
BITZER: It was a fairly well-balanced, a little heavy on foreign policy I thought. But certainly, she engaged the candidates, she did the follow-up. She lost control a little bit when the two of them were talking over each other. But it was certainly a real dynamic difference between that and the first debate.
MCFADYEN: In the North Carolina gubernatorial campaign, Democrat Walter Dalton’s campaign for governor has been using a recorded telephone message---sometimes called a “robo call”---to attack Republican opponent Pat McCrory. Let’s listen…
DALTON ROBO CALL VOICEOVER: The McCrory story you don’t know, Chapter Three: Pat McCrory claimed “I was mayor for 14 years, and not once was my ethics challenged.” Not once? Try many times. McCrory failed to report campaign flights, multiple McCrory donors being prosecuted, and he used his public role to benefit the special interests. No wonder McCrory lost his hometown the last time he ran for governor. The people who knew him best voted against him…Paid for by Dalton for Governor”
MCFADYEN: Now we checked up on some of these allegations. It’s true that Charlotte narrowly voted for Perdue in 2008, but we couldn’t find any McCrory donors who are being prosecuted. The campaign says they were talking about a business owner who’s been accused of funneling money through employees to the McCrory campaign in '08. Those folks were referred to the Mecklenburg D.A., but we couldn’t find that any charges had been filed. Is Walter Dalton getting really desperate here?
BITZER: I think so, I think this is the first clear sign of desperation by the Dalton campaign. I mean, they’re basically taking anything they can get, any kind of spaghetti, and seeing if it will be thrown up and stick on the wall. It is certainly the case that campaigns tend to distort and tend to twist the facts, but making things wholesale up, I’m not really sure where the evidence is and it’s probably going to be incumbent upon the Dalton campaign to release these “facts” behind this particular campaign commercial. When you’re ten points down, this is certainly the tack that most campaigns tend to take. But it is showing the signs of desperation.
Michael Bitzer is a professor of political science and history at Catawba College in Salisbury. You can read more of his insights on the WFAE political blog, at thepartyline.org.