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POLITICS: White House

Romney camp smiling over Biden's debate smirks

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Photo - Vice President Joe Biden during the vice presidential debate (AP Photo)
Vice President Joe Biden during the vice presidential debate (AP Photo)
Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Campaign 2012

The defining image of the 2012 vice presidential debate was Joe Biden's smirk -- and that's just fine with Republicans.

For months, Mitt Romney has been attempting to convince voters he is the adult needed to clean up the mess President Obama has made of the economy. The fallout from the vice presidential debate reinforces that image among the narrow band of uncommitted voters, said people close to the GOP presidential contender.

"We're confident that the more people see the debate, the more voters are going to view Biden as a petulant clown," a Romney campaign official told The Washington Examiner. "Our side looks serious and focused on the nation's problems. The crazy uncle may be entertaining, but it's the opposite of presidential."

The White House gave a glowing endorsement of Biden's debate showing in Danville, Ky., saying it demonstrated the passion and authenticity that have made Biden a beloved figure in the Democratic Party.

But in the aftermath of the event, many questioned why Biden repeatedly interrupted Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., laughed all night and displayed little respect for his GOP opponent.

Romney would prefer to keep the presidential race from becoming a likability contest. Though the public is widely disappointed with Obama's job performance, people consistently rank Obama as more personable and empathetic than the former Massachusetts governor.

As a result, Romney is trying to convince the undecided to vote with their heads rather than their hearts. And Republicans will use the vice presidential debate to augment that argument.

"I think you might agree with me that there was one person onstage last night that was thoughtful and respectful, steady and poised," Romney told a crowd in Richmond, painting a portrait that will resurface in these final weeks of the presidential campaign.

Republican strategists were more blunt in their assessment of a vice president with seemingly no filter.

"This idea that Joe Biden is a joke will resonate well after the debate, and therefore, that reflects on the president," said GOP consultant Mark Corallo. "Biden thinks this condescending act works, but that joker grin bites him in the butt. He's a jerk."

For Democrats still smarting from Obama's lackluster debate turn, Biden did accomplish a key goal: rallying the base and restoring a sense of swagger among party activists.

But that could come at a price among independent voters. Public opinion often takes days to cement in the wake of such a marquee debate, and history has proved that body language matters. For instance, the lasting impression of the 2000 presidential debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush was Gore's heavy sighs and awkward attempts to stand near the former Texas governor.

Still, some cautioned the Romney campaign from making too much of an issue out of Biden's antics.

"They want to extend this notion that they won both debates, but it seems like a waste of energy since most Americans didn't watch the vice presidential debate or care about Biden's body language," said University of Miami political scientist Christopher Mann.

And others said that while Biden made for good television -- particularly for comedy writers -- his debate would merely cement polarized opinions among Democrats and Republicans. For progressives, Biden remains the folksy, blue-collar champion for the middle class while Republicans dismiss him as a bumbling gaffe machine sure to do more harm than good for Obama's re-election chances.

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner