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Biden's in-your-face debate style: Just "Joe being Joe"?

Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin watches as Vice President Joe Biden answers a question during the vice presidential debate at Centre College, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky. Rick Wilkins

When President Obama said that "Joe just needs to be Joe" in the vice presidential debate, he may have been expecting the forthrightness and populist appeal Vice President Joe Biden delivered Thursday night. He may not have expected so many snarky smiles or eyerolls.

While his debate against Republican Paul Ryan was substantive, it was Biden's animated attitude that stole the headlines. For those who are familiar with the vice president's style, his aggressive posturing wasn't a surprise. But the snickers and grimaces that punctuated his performance broadcast the pressure he was under to win back the momentum from the Romney-Ryan campaign.

Ultimately, Biden's performance is unlikely to move the race that much: Democrats called his performance bold and inspiring while Republicans dismissed it as boorish and off-putting. Those in the middle are simply unlikely to pick a side based on the vice presidential debate.

In the immediate aftermath, it appears that Biden's aggression may have helped him more than hit hurt him: A CBS News instant poll of uncommitted voters showed that 50 percent considered Biden the winner of the debate while 31 percent called Ryan the winner.

Democrats, of course, wholeheartedly agreed.

"Tonight Democrats got the show they wanted -- and President Obama may have gotten the boost he needed," Jonathan Cohn wrote at the left-leaning New Republic after the debate. Biden, he said, "gave one of the most aggressive, passionate, and substantive debate performances I can recall." He acknowledged that Biden interrupted Ryan frequently and was "at times openly dismissive of Ryan." Still, Cohn swooned, "Oh, Biden had some great liners."

Liberal MSNBC blogger Steve Benen concluded, "Ryan was simply overpowered -- where Biden was on the offensive; Ryan was on the defensive. Where Biden was direct; Ryan was evasive. Where Biden was confident; Ryan was in over his head."

Republicans, meanwhile, charged that if Biden "won" the debate, he did so by acting like a bully.

"As anyone who's been in a tavern past midnight understands, it's hard to win a fight with a guy who is shouting from the corner bar stool," the Wall Street Journal's editorial board wrote. "So now we know what Team Obama's comeback plan was following last week's defeat in the Presidential debate. Unleash Joe Biden to interrupt, filibuster, snarl, smirk and otherwise show contempt for Paul Ryan."

Conservative blogger Erick Erickson said that Ryan came across as "very earnest" while Biden was "insufferable."

"I think Ryan's demeanor will play better at home than a rather manic and angry sounding Joe Biden who by the end was yelling and smiling at everybody," he wrote. "Honestly, had I not had to watch this debate for work, I would have turned it off. I don't really want to be yelled out for an hour and a half and that's what Biden spent the whole time doing overcompensating for Barack Obama's lackluster performance."

Republican operatives charge that Biden interrupted Ryan as many as 82 times during the 90-minute debate. Ryan himself chided the vice president telling him, "Mr. Vice President, I know you're under a lot of duress to make up lost ground, but I think people will be better served if we don't keep interrupting each other." Biden laughed cynically over Ryan's lecture.

Biden is known for being outspoken and at times going a bit too far. That was best illustrated when he whispered to President Obama -- unaware of the hot mic in front of him -- that the signing of the health care law was a "big f**king deal."

But presidential historian Doug Brinkley noted that in spite of his many well-documented gaffes, Biden is "one of our more astute policy practitioners," especially on matters like foreign policy.

He was clearly ready Thursday and put that policy acumen on full display.

"Biden became the alpha debater during the first 45 minutes of the debate," Brinkley said. But anything can get tiring, and the combination of forced smiles and snickers, and heavy artillery at times when it wasn't necessary blunted some of the performance."

Given President Obama's lackluster performance in the first presidential debate a week earlier, Biden's "notion of coming out guns blazing was probably correct, but you can overdo a good thing," Brinkley said.

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, added, "People like me who have followed Joe Biden literally since the night he was elected to the Senate in 1972 were less taken aback than others because we know him."

Anyone who's seen Biden on a Sunday morning political show like CBS' "Face the Nation" would be ready to see the vice president feistily defend the administration, Sabato said. "But the fact is, most people don't watch Sunday morning shows and don't follow Biden carefully."

At the same time, it was clear Biden's attitude was in part a response to his debate opponent. As the 42-year-old chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan has taken up an influential and policy-heavy role in the House at a young age.

"You could almost hear him think, 'You young whipper snapper, I'm going to teach you a lesson or two, just like i was taught a lesson or two,'" Sabato said of the 69-year-old Biden.

By contrast, Sabato said Biden was less aggressive in the 2008 debate against Sarah Palin in part because "he could easily have turned people off" by attacking his female opponent.

On top of that, Biden had less to be concerned about in the 2008 debate. The Obama campaign was in the lead going into the October debate, and Palin had already raised doubts about her candidacy in an awkward interview with then-CBS News anchor Katie Couric.

CBS News' instant poll following the 2008 vice presidential debate showed that Biden emerged as the winner of that debate as well. Palin's debate performance, however, did improve voters' perceptions of her.

Ultimately, Palin's debate performance clearly wasn't a game-changer. Biden's this year won't be either.

"It energized Democrats and it outraged Republicans, and I still say the effect is zero," Sabato said.

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