Fireworks fly at vice presidential debate

Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan arrive on stage for their debate at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, October 10, 2012.
Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan arrive on stage for their debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky., October 10, 2012.

Updated 11:20 p.m. ET

The fireworks began early at Thursday night's vice presidential debate in Danville, Ky., with Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan hammering each other -- and the men at the top of their ticket -- over the attacks in Libya and other foreign policy issues. 

"It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack," Ryan claimed, before criticizing the Obama administration for "projecting weakness abroad."

"What we are watching on our tv screens is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy," he added.

Biden, who smiled incredulously during Ryan's comments, responded, "With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey."

He criticized Ryan for voting to cut funding for embassy security and added of Mitt Romney and Ryan, "These guys bet against America all the time."

For Biden, the debate marked an opportunity to change the narrative of the campaign in the wake of President Obama's widely-panned performance in the first presidential debate last week. Mitt Romney has gained in both national and battleground state polls in the wake of that performance, and the two men are now effectively tied in national polls. While vice presidential debates have not changed the course of a campaign in the past, a strong performance by the vice president could allow the Obama campaign to regain its footing.

For Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican congressman and House Budget Committee chair who is seen by many as the intellectual leader of the GOP, the debate was a chance to introduce himself to the American people and make a forceful case for the Romney/Ryan ticket. Ryan, who asked to be referred to as "Mr. Ryan" instead of "Congressman Ryan" by the moderator, was pressed on his plan to transform Medicare into a voucher-like system as well as the Romney-Ryan ticket's unwillingness to specify which deductions and loopholes should be eliminated from the tax code in order to make its tax cuts revenue-neutral.

The 90-minute debate at Centre College, moderated by ABC News' Martha Raddatz, was split between domestic and foreign issues. The two men were seated - unlike last week's presidential debate - and the debate was broken into nine 10-minute segments.

On Iran, the two agreed Iran should not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, but Ryan said sanctions should be tougher claiming Iran is moving faster toward a nuclear weapon. Biden defended the administration's sanctions saying "These are the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions. Period."

Biden followed by asking, rhetorically, how the administration could make the sanctions any tougher. "What more can the President do? We will not let them acquire a nuclear weapon," he said.

Raddatz then moved on to domestic policy where Biden and Ryan got to Mitt Romney's comment at a Florida fundraiser that "47 percent" of people don't pay income taxes. Ryan came to his running mate's defense, "sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth in the right way," Ryan said.