LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Vice President Joe Biden’s tendency to veer off message, try out accents and dialects, and basically say whatever pops into his mind has made him an easy caricature to many Republican partisans. The very mention of his name at rallies for GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, reliably evokes chuckling or, sometimes, hooting.
Over the last 11 days, conversations with voters at GOP rallies have shown that they expect big things from Ryan on the debate stage Thursday night when the fresher-faced 42-year-old Ryan tangles with the more experienced 69-year-old Biden.
Here’s a sampling of what the Ryan supporters had to say:
On Oct. 1, two days before Romney met President Obama for their first debate, Republicans were still fretting about how their nominee might do. Ryan held a town-hall-style meeting in Clinton, Iowa, the hometown of his wife’s mother. Among those in the crowd were Ron and Janet Kopko, farmers who had driven from Cordova, Ill., a town across the Mississippi River.
“I hope Gov. Romney and Paul Ryan get real tough,” Ron Kopko said. “It may be just nasty in the debates, you know. I hope it will be, yeah. Hey, you’re dealing with a Chicago politician, so you gotta be nasty. I think Paul Ryan will do very well. He’s a lot smarter than Biden, you know. I just hope that Gov. Romney doesn’t come across like a wimp. He’s gotta be tough. The media doesn't ever ask the president tough questions at all. I think this election is going to turn around how the debates go."
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“I think I want Ryan to show real strength,” Janet Kopko added. “So many people have said to me that Biden is very weak, and when you have somebody very strong against somebody weak, it really shows them up.”
On Oct. 4, the two Republicans teamed up at a rally that drew thousands of people to rural Fishersville, Va. The unexpectedly large crowd caused traffic backups in all directions. Romney’s triumphant performance against Obama the night before had clearly energized Republicans.
“I was absolutely shocked at what a poor job President Obama did,” said Billy Bawn, 74, from nearby Woodstock, Va. “Mitt Romney was energetic, he was alive, and President Obama, I am wondering if he is well.”
Looking forward to Thursday night's vice presidential debate, Bawn said, “Biden is a joke. I am not too sure he can ever get his foot out of his mouth.”
Charlie Howard, a 62-year-old construction business owner from Ft. Worth, Texas, had waited seven hours to see Romney and Ryan. He predicted a debate win for Ryan.
“Paul Ryan is young, he’s sharp, he knows what he’s doing, where he’s going,” Howard said. “It will be another night like last night. I am sorry, but those guys are not for us, they don’t support us, they don’t like us, business owners like myself. I did make this. Twenty-five years ago, I was out of work with three kids under 10 years old and a big mortgage. Now I employ 115 people. Three years ago, I employed 200 people and I’m struggling right now and nobody’s listening to me. These guys, they’ll help.”
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David Wilk, 43, an unemployed data warehousing specialist from Weyer’s Cave, Va., is one of the few voters who is still undecided. (Note to the campaigns!) He said he is looking forward to a substantive VP debate, but he added, “I think that when Joe Biden is on a long enough leash, he will say really stupid things, and I would just like to see that for entertainment value.”
Lowering expectations for Ryan, he said, is “a good strategy.” Ryan is “an articulate man, he’s very intelligent, I think he’s gonna be quick on his feet. I think he’s going to do extremely well,” he added.
Pam Richmond, 59, of Fishersville, Va., also was confident about Ryan’s upcoming performance.
“I believe his strengths are head and shoulders above anything that Biden could offer,” said Richmond, whose husband, Bruce, is the head of the local tea party. “I think that Paul Ryan knows what’s going on and is able to explain it to people in a way they can understand. And I’m not convinced that Joe Biden even knows what’s going on. His name was mentioned here and everybody laughs. That’s kind of embarrassing. Paul Ryan has the enthusiasm and the intelligence and the experience to get things done, to get our country back.”
Dolly Buswell, a 70-year-old retired interior designer and artist from Charlottesville, Va., has confidence in Ryan despite his relative lack of high-stakes debate experience.