DANVILLE, Ky. -- Vice President Joe Biden and Republican rival Paul Ryan sparred Thursday in often personal terms that exposed their passions and core beliefs over the role of their faith, families, and deeply held views about the role of government in American life and foreign policy.
Both men were assertive from the outset, a reflection of the closeness of the presidential race just weeks before the election, each eager to trumpet the strengths of their tickets and equally zealous in ripping the other party.
Biden was aggressive, hoping to make up for President Barack Obamas tepid performance in his opening debate last week against Republican nominee Mitt Romney, a performance that reset the race and thrust the Republicans back into contention. Pressing to make his points, Biden at times raised his voice and jabbed his finger at moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News.
Ryan was more measured, often lowering his voice after Biden. A fresh-faced congressman who had never debated on the national stage despite his 14 years in the House of Representatives, Ryan betrayed no signs of nervousness about the showdown with Biden.
Usually an afterthought with little impact on the race, the only such meeting between the No. 2s on their respective tickets took on added significance after the initial presidential face-off last week and Obamas negative reviews Oct. 3.
Since then, Romney has pulled even with Obama in national polls and closed the gap in several battleground states.
In Florida, Romney opened up a 7 point lead, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll. Obama has a 1 percentage point edge over Romney in a new NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll of likely voters, released Thursday. The margin was the same as before the Obama-Romney debate. In Ohio, Obama leads by 6 points. He had led by 8. And in Virginia, Obama was up 2, but Romney is now ahead by 1.
In their sole debate, Biden and Ryan sparred repeatedly on domestic policies such as Medicare and taxes, as well as foreign policy questions such as the attack in Libya that led to the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.
Most covered the same ground as Obama and Romney. It was their personal exchanges where they shed new light on the two major party tickets and their policies.
Both Irish Roman Catholics, Biden and Ryan spoke about how their faith drives their different positions on abortion.
Our faith informs us in every thing we do, Ryan said. He added that science also plays a role in his opposition to abortion rights in most cases, saying he and his wife were touched by the ultrasound image of their unborn first child.
While he himself favors more limits, he said Romneys policy would be to oppose abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
He criticized the Obama administration for supporting abortion rights without any limits, and Biden for saying once he would not second-guess Chinas one-child policy that can lead to forced abortion.
My religion defines who I am, Biden said, stressing both his churchs caring for the poor as well as its belief that life begins at conception.
Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who cant take care of themselves, Biden said.
While he said he shares the belief that life begins at conception, he said that was personal.