This article from National Review outlines Paul Ryan’s debate experience and his current preparations for today’s debate.
For much of last week, Ryan was at Wintergreen, a sprawling resort in central Virginia. Under the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ryan and his advisers quietly reviewed policy papers, held several mock debates, and kept distractions to a minimum. BlackBerries and iPhones were switched off, and Ryan avoided the traveling press.
Yet the Virginia sessions were not the beginning of Ryan’s prep for Thursday’s debate. Soon after the Tampa convention, Ryan convened his inner circle, which includes longtime aides such as Andy Speth and Romney hands such as Dan Senor, and asked them to compile briefing books, much like the binders he used to organize for Kemp. On the campaign plane and at his home in Janesville, Wis., Ryan has been constantly reading the policy books, using his favorite disposable blue pen to make changes.
By mid-September, Ryan had two large books with him at all times. One was for domestic policy and the other for foreign policy. Romney’s policy staff in Boston was helpful in providing information about Romney’s positions, but Ryan took it upon himself to write much of the analysis and talking points. By late September, Ryan, who often vacations in the Rocky Mountains, asked his staff to book him a few rooms at a mountain resort so he could prepare in relative silence and anonymity. The Romney campaign settled on a place in rural Virginia because Virginia is a swing state and its mountains are fairly accessible.
[…]“I’ve watched [Biden’s] tapes, I’ve watched his speeches, like the one he gave today, and just looked at a lot of their issues, their positions,” Ryan told TheWeekly Standard last week. “I expect the vice president to come at me like a cannonball. He’ll be in full attack mode, and I don’t think he’ll let any inconvenient facts get in his way.”
The mock debates — excluding the laid-back sessions in jeans in Ryan’s hometown — have purposefully been more formal. From the first mock debates in a Washington, D.C., hotel to the run-throughs at Wintergreen, Ryan and Olson have been seated at a conference-room table, just as they will be in Danville, Ky., under the bright lights. Ryan’s aides are hushed as Flaherty or Healey open the sessions, and the atmosphere, according to a Romney official, is “charged.” Olson has mastered Biden’s mannerisms, down to his long-windedness and hand gestures. Olson’s tactics echo those of Senator Rob Portman, who played the role of President Obama during Mitt Romney’s debate prep and pestered the former governor about his responses.
Ryan has kept his cool. “He’s been in Congress for a long time, so he knows how to deal with weird people,” says Vin Weber, a Romney adviser. There have been bouts of nervousness about various topics and issues, his confidants say. But those moments, they argue, reflect his commitment to preparation and reveal his tendency toward perfectionism. Ryan doesn’t want simply to push back against Biden; he wants to win the argument. His preferred method of communicating with voters is the town hall, and since he won’t have his PowerPoint slides with him in Kentucky, he plans to tinker slightly with his usual presentation because many voters aren’t familiar with his wonky style.
Working with Speth and former House aides Michael Steel, Joyce Meyer, and Conor Sweeney, Ryan has carefully reviewed his House record, ensuring that he is up to speed on all the details of his budget and the Romney economic plan. But according to many of his advisers, the most important sessions have been those with Senor, a former Bush administration official who is an expert on foreign policy. Ryan has traveled to the Middle East and knows more about foreign policy than he’s given credit for, but he acknowledges that it’s the one area that he needs to sharpen. Biden may be gaffe-prone, but he is a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
[…]In the final days, Ryan will do some brief mock debates, but he’ll spend much of his time talking through various debate scenarios. Ryan likes to “game out” things, a Republican operative says, and he enjoys discussing how Biden may react in certain situations. His mood about the entire debate has noticeably changed in recent days, an adviser adds, since Romney’s debate. To Ryan, Romney’s assertiveness signals the campaign’s energy, and it will shape his own attitude and style when he faces Biden at Centre College. “He doesn’t want to be the guy talking about CBO baselines, but he wants to fight,” a Ryan adviser says. “He’s learned a lot on the trail about how to better make his case.”
Ryan hasn’t had a serious debate since 1998, when he first ran for Congress. At the time, he was 28 years old. Running against Democrat Lydia Spottswood, he was tagged as impressive, but too young — much as he is now by his critics. In those debates, Ryan took care to avoid sounding too much like a former congressional staffer. “You just can’t come across as an arrogant young know-it-all,” Ryan reflected a few years ago, in an interview with Christian Schneider, a fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.
“He was really very serious, almost dour in those debates,” Schneider chuckles, recalling Ryan’s first run. “Given his youth as a vice-presidential candidate, he may take that same tack, and I don’t expect him to try to be too funny. He’ll let Biden do that. But he’s still the same guy he was back then. He loves talking about the budget and spending. So we’ll probably see that side of him in the debate, regardless of what’s happened in the prep.”
Here are the details for tonight’s debate:
Vice presidential candidates’ debate between Vice President Joe Biden, Wis. Rep. Paul Ryan
- Topic: Foreign and domestic topics
- Date: Thursday, Oct. 11
- Time: 9 – 10:30 p.m. EDT
- Location: Centre College, Danville, Ky.
- Moderator: Martha Raddatz, senior foreign affairs correspondent, ABC News
- Format: “The debate will cover both foreign and domestic topics and be divided into nine time segments of approximately 10 minutes each. The moderator will ask an opening question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a discussion of the question.”
I’ll be watching it via streaming on Fox News Live. Won’t you join me at 6 PM Pacific/9 PM Eastern?
If you do tune in, beware of the the left-wing bias of the moderator, because Obama attended her wedding. Paul Ryan did not. More than that, she has a pretty strong record of being biased to the left on social, fiscal and foreign policy issues.
By the way, if you missed the highly praised first debate between Romney and Obama, which Romney won in a landslide and which moved the polls so decisively in the last week, you can still watch that first presidential debate. Highly recommended.
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