Now this is what you call a debate

Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Rep. Paul Ryan debated at Centre College, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky. (AP)
Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Rep. Paul Ryan debated at Centre College, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky. (AP) (AP)
Posted: October 12, 2012

AMERICA WENT TO a debate Thursday night and a hockey fight broke out.

With some rock 'em, sock 'em back-and-forth on substantive issues from Afghanistan to Medicare, Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger, Rep. Paul Ryan - with an assist from moderator Martha Raddatz - gave the nation the lively, informative and entertaining showdown it was denied last week from President Obama, Mitt Romney and Jim Lehrer.

Something else was different this time around: It appeared to many observers to be a success for the Democratic ticket, thanks to a feisty and knowledgeable Biden - appearing perhaps to beat Ryan on points, although it certainly wasn't a knockout. The vice president labeled as "malarkey" Ryan's claims over issues that included funding for embassy protection and Medicare.

Battle of the body language: The good news for Biden was that he was much more engaged than Obama had been - but maybe a little too engaged. The vice president frequently laughed or smiled into the camera when Ryan tried to make a point, a habit that some liberals found endearing but that might have put off some swing voters. Ryan held his own but looked a little bug-eyed and intimidating in some of the foreign-policy banter.

Most memorable moment: Biden's comeback that "this is a bunch of stuff," prompting a somewhat startled Raddatz to ask him what is "a bunch of stuff."

MVM (Most Valuable Moderator): Raddatz, the ABC foreign-affairs reporter, who was very much the anti-matter Jim Lehrer - assertive, well-informed, and pushing the discussion to cover a lot of ground and making Thursday night one of liveliest and most informative debates in recent memory. Only flaw was perhaps not enough domestic-policy questions.

Best Ryan line of the night: "Problems are growing abroad, but jobs aren't growing at home," as the Republican hoped to cement recent gains and bad headlines over the administration's handling of security in Libya.

Best Biden line of the night: "Oh, so now you're Jack Kennedy?" - complaining about how Ryan compared the GOP ticket's tax proposals to those of past presidents but offered few details. A second earlier, he noted that the Romney-Ryan tax plan was nothing like Ronald Reagan's because he knew Reagan and the Gipper offered specifics. It all invoked Democrat Lloyd Bentsen's famed takedown of the less-experienced Dan Quayle in 1988.

Ryan whopper of the night: His strange claim - echoing one earlier in the campaign - that the Obama administration has shrunk the Navy to smaller than it was before World War I. As Politifact noted, "this doesn't pass 'the giggle test,' " said William W. Stueck, a historian at the University of Georgia," because the 1916 Navy didn't have ships the likes of aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.

Biden whopper of the night: "We weren't told they wanted more security there" at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. In fact, considerable evidence has surfaced in recent days that officials including Eric Nordstrom, the top U.S. security official in Libya, had indeed asked for more reinforcements.

Sarah Palin reminder: Ryan said at one point that in his native Wisconsin, "overseas means Lake Superior to us." Or, in Palin-speak, "I can see Canada from my house."

Missing in action: Immigration, climate change, fracking.

Most bizarre pre-debate photos, Ryan: The so-called "dumbbell pics" - photos from 2011 of the Wisconsin congressman and P90X-workout enthusiast posing with his dumbbells in a backwards red baseball cap. According to New York magazine: "It's like the mimbo from Seinfeld is running for vice president."

Most bizarre pre-debate photos, Biden: Tie, between the shot that looked like the vice president with the biker lady on his lap and the one of a bare-chested Biden hosing down his Trans Am in the White House driveway. OK, one of those was photoshopped and ran in The Onion - but right now we're not sure which one.

Weirdest Philadelphia reference of the night: MSNBC's Chris Matthews, native son of the City of Brotherly Love, said during the pre-debate coverage that "there's an old saying in Philadelphia politics . . . 'you middle the guy.' " Maybe, but that's a new one on us.

In the Heat of the Night Award: They called Sidney Poitier "Mr. Tibbs," and they called the GOP vice presidential candidate "Mr. Ryan," as the candidate requested that he not be called "Congressman Ryan." Which is what tends to happen when Congress has an approval rating of 9 percent.

Most focus-grouped tweet in the history of Twitter: @JoeBiden: Barack and I are in this because we'll never stop fighting for you. You'll see that tonight. -Joe"

Best tweets:

Ryan: Here is everything I prepped on foreign policy in one answer. - @BuzzFeedBen (BuzzFeed's Ben Smith)

FINALLY! Good LORD, I bet there will be a lot of babies born in 40 weeks from today. THIS IS PROGRESSIVE PORN! @shannynmoore (liberal blogger)

True: Mitt Romney is a car guy. He's even got an elevator for them! And Anne's got a couple of Caddilacs -@TVMoJoe

Everyone knows the higher unemployment figures in Scranton, PA are the fault of Dunder-Mifflin getting bought out by Saber. #VPDebate - @peppermintfatty

Contact Will Bunch at bunchw@phillynews.com or 215-854-2957. Follow him on Twitter @Will_Bunch. Read his blog at Attytood.com.

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