Tonight, Republican Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan will meet the incumbent Vice President Joe Biden at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky for the first and only debate for the Vice Presidency. The last time Joe Biden met for such an occasion was in 2008, at Washington University in St. Louis. There, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska surprised everyone and successfully challenged Biden, who, it was later revealed, made numerous factual mistakes.
Jason [Recher, a Palin aide] and I hit my toe mark precisely on time. On the other side of the stage, Biden was supposed to hit his at the same moment. But when I looked across, his spot was empty. Seconds ticked by, an eternity in a tightly scripted television production schedule. Still no Joe.
Dang, I thought. He’s still running on Senate time.
An aide poked his head into the empty space where the senator was supposed to be, swiveled his head, withdrew. Looking back, it could’ve been backstage chaos causing the delay, or it could’ve been a strategy, sort of like icing the kicker just before a field goal.
Finally Biden appeared, as usual looking impeccable in his dark suit, tall and confident, his distinguished silver hair flawlessly groomed. I had never met him before, but now I tried to catch his eye, to give him, I don’t know, a friendly nod, a thumbs-up, something to acknowledge that, hey, ultimately we’re all on the same team. Go, U.S.A.! But Senator Biden didn’t make eye contact.
Instead he looked past me. His features then hardened into what can only be described as a “game face.” I could respect that. I knew what it was like to get into a zone before a big game.
Then the senator started to stretch. Literally.
He put his hands on his hips and, staring grimly at some point behind me, began to bend at the waist, bouncing first to the right, then to the left. Then the neck rolls started, presumably to get rid of all that nasty tension from being the front-runner. After that, the senator from Delaware began stretching his quads, grabbing his dress shoe and pulling it up behind his designer-suited rear end. Right leg, then left.
I’m thinking, O-kay. Didn’t now this was going to get physical.
I looked at Jason to mouth, “What the heck? Should I be doing that, too?
But Jason was looking at his watch, counting down to go time. He didn’t tell me then, but his plan was to push me out five seconds early so that I could cross more than half the stage and meet Biden, symbolically, on “his” turf.
Seconds later, Jason gve me a gentle nudge. “Go!” he said. “And remember, think ‘hair plugs’!”
I hustled onstage, where I shook hands with Senator Biden and asked, “Hey, can I call you Joe?”
While tonight’s debate between Rep. Paul Ryan and VP Joe Biden will be moderated by Martha Raddatz of ABC News, the 2008 VP debate was moderated by PBS’s Gwen Ifill. Both moderators were met with a few concerns and questions about their objectivity: Ifill, because she was in the middle of writing a book that included positive analysis of then-junior Senator from Illinois Barack Obama; Raddatz, because it was revealed Barack Obama was at her wedding for her first marriage.
In her book, Palin noted there was no tangible ill consequence from Ifill as moderator:
The debate went well–from my perspective, anyway. It was a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere, and the time zipped by much too quickly. Gwen was fine as moderator…
After the debate, my family and Joe’s family joined us onstage. He has the most beautiful wife and daughters and granddaughters. We all hit it off for those few minutes, and it was nice to unwind with a casual chat. Senator Biden and I reflected on the debate and laughed about a couple of the lighter moments. After a few minutes, I looked up to see that Dad had wandered down to Gwen’s moderator chair. They seemed engrossed in an earnest discussion. Was he thanking her for her fair handling of the debate? I walked over in time to hear Dad, always a coach at heart, advising Gwen on how to ice and elevate her ankle. She had broken it the day before and shown up for the evening in a wheelchair. Now, that’s my kind of tough.