What to watch for in VP debate

Will the "Moderate Mitt" image survive an evening of Paul Ryan?
A banner made by a local middle school depicting Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., at left, and Vice President Joe Biden, at right, hangs on the wall inside the media center ahead of Thursday’s vice presidential debate, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, at Centre College in Danville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

1.  Can Mitt Romney’s recent incarnation as “Moderate Mitt” survive an evening of Paul Ryan?

Romney chose the Wisconsin congressman who chairs the House Budget Committe in part to appeal to the ideological conservatives in the Republican party and to signal a seriousness about spending cuts. Among other things, Ryan can expect to be pressed on his proposal to turn Medicare into a system of subsidies for the purchase of private insurance (which Democrats deride as “Vouchercare.”) But more broadly, it will be interesting to hear what tone Ryan strikes when discussing the proper role of government or divisive social issues.

2.  Can Joe Biden turn Moderate Mitt into Flip-Flop Mitt?

Romney had campaigned on repealing “Obamacare,” but in the Denver debate, he’d keep parts of Obama’s health care law, such as a guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions. His campaign later walked it back in part. Romney had campaigned on a tax cut for “everyone” including top income earners, but lately says he’d close enough loopholes so that the wealthy would pay just as much tax as they do today.  Romney had campaigned as a pro-lifer who would support a ban on federal funding for abortions, would reinstate a ban on funding for NGOs who perform or promote abortions, and support legislation for the rights of the unborn. But yesterday he told the Des Moines Register, “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” It’s an opening for Biden.

3. Can Paul Ryan turn the Benghazi consulate attacks into a significant foreign policy liability for Obama-Biden?

Joe Biden has extensive experience in foreign policy (he is the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee); Paul Ryan does not. But the Obama administration is on the defensive over its handling of security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi where armed attackers last month killed four Americans including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Congress has heard testimony that requests for beefed up security at the consulate were rejected by the State Department ahead of the attacks, and the White House has shifted its explanations of what happened – first they said it was a protest that escalated and later described the violence as a pre-planned terrorist attack. (Faulty intelligence is an emerging theme.)

The Denver debate was exclusively about domestic issues, but tonight foreign policy will be one of the topics and it will be interesting to see which candidate comes out with the upper hand.