VP Debate Will Again Feature Generational Gap
Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen has been playing the role of Ryan in hours-long mock debate sessions, which have been fueled by caffeinated drinks, Gatorade, and animal crackers. At 53, Van Hollen is more than a decade Ryan's senior but has been in Washington four years less than the GOP vice-presidential nominee.
Belying his relative youth, Ryan has spent almost 14 years as a congressman and has served as the ranking Republican on one of the most prominent bodies -- the House Budget Committee -- for almost six years.
According to Republican strategist Tucker Eskew, who was part of the team that helped prepare Palin for her debate against Biden, any effort to inject the age gap into Ryan's thinking could backfire.
"The last thing you want him thinking about is, 'I'm going into the arena with a man with 30 years more experience'; you want him thinking he's got the right ideas," Eskew said. "He's taken it to President Obama in face-to-face settings, so I don't think he'll be intimidated. I would be well-briefed on some of [Biden's] pre-administration record because it's ripe. I wouldn't want to over-pluck those fruits, but I would want to have a few stored up and [be] ready to toss them."
But even with his years of high-level Washington experience, the fact remains that Ryan is a year younger than Biden's eldest son, Beau, and he often projects an even younger figure on stage.
The sensitivity involved with preparing their Generation X candidate to square off against a man who will soon enter his seventies is something the Ryan camp says it has addressed explicitly. That was done with the help of former Solicitor General Ted Olson, Ryan's mock debate opponent, who is close to Biden's age.
"It's obviously something we're aware of," said a senior Ryan campaign aide. "I think Ryan would tell you that he's frequently been the youngest guy at the debate on Capitol Hill. He's used to debating people who are his senior and doing it in a respectful but effective way."
The Romney campaign hopes that the challenger's youth will appeal on a visceral level to younger voters just tuning into the campaign more seriously, who may like President Obama but are open to a candidate more relatable to them personally than the man at the top of the GOP ticket.
But despite Biden's relatively advanced years, both sides acknowledge that his energetic, happy-go-lucky -- and, yes, gaffe-prone -- persona (which has been parodied to great effect over the years by The Onion) may have a certain appeal to a younger demographic.
"The vice president is a very charming man, and you always have to kind of think about that charm and the potential for an 'Irish uncle' moment," a Romney campaign aide said.