The night after Barack Obama performed below expectations in his first presidential debate last week, he attempted to rebound by heading to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On Bascom Hill, he sought to rouse supporters, energize his base, and appeal to the swing state’s independent voters. Vice President Joe Biden, while performing much better than Obama in the one and only Vice
Presidential debate, similarly left the Bluegrass State to head to badger country to address an energized crowd on Friday at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse.
Biden stayed on the offensive and touched upon what he considered “fundamental differences” between the two campaigns including approaches to foreign policy, women’s rights, and economic recovery. He stressed that he and Obama would “lift the burden off the middle class, not double down on the great recession again.”
It was Biden’s fourth visit to Wisconsin this year and his eighth since taking office, while Romney and Ryan, who is from Janesville, have made a combined fifteen campaign stops to Wisconsin since April. All this attention to the land of the Packers speaks to the importance of Wisconsin’s place in this year’s presidential election.
And with so much at stake, what were the reactions to the debates and did Biden’s seemingly positive performance affect any voters?
According to Wisconsin news outlets, reactions to the debate seem to split down party lines, with independents remaining largely invisible. The UW-Madison newspaper, The Badger Herald, interviewed only the heads of the College Republicans and Democrats, each of who came out firmly claiming that their candidate had emerged victorious in the debate. The more liberal Cap Times published an editorial which compared Ryan’s “secret plan” of cutting taxes and balancing the budget with Richard Nixon’s “secret plan” to the end the Vietnam War in 1968. Meanwhile, the more conservative Milwaukee Journal Sentinel spotlighted Biden’s aggressiveness and explained Ryan’s stance as a “determined indictment” of the Obama policies.
Historically, the Vice-Presidential debate has had very little effect on the outcomes of elections since its introduction in 1976. John Hudak, a fellow at the Brooking Institute, affirmed that the debates were indeed “a battle for voters in the middle,” but ultimately, “a Vice Presidential debate does not determine an election outcome.” Instead, it appears that whoever wins in Wisconsin will be decided by the organization on the ground, the last month of campaigning, and perhaps the last two presidential debates, which tend to have a greater impact on voters’ perceptions. Obama won Wisconsin by twelve points in 2008, and according to Nate Silver, Obama only leads by three points in the state right now. Voters are energized by the candidates’ frequent visits but independents remain largely invisible and undecided. With Ryan poised to make an appearance in Waukesha this Monday, the Badger State is still up for grabs.