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Expert Available: Vice Presidential Debate Presents Unique Challenges for Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, Says MU Expert

October 8th, 2012

Story Contact: Timothy Wall, 573-882-3346,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – With near record viewership for the first presidential debate, expectations are now unusually high for the one and only vice presidential debate on Oct. 11 between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan.

Mitchell McKinney, University of Missouri professor of communication and internationally recognized scholar of presidential debates, points out that vice presidential debates present unique challenges for the vice presidential candidates and these debates function very differently than their presidential counterparts. Key features that typically characterize the vice presidential debate include:

  • more aggressive attacks than found in presidential debates;
  • the need for vice presidential candidates to vigorously defend their running mates as the presidential candidates are the most frequent target of attacks in VP debates;
  • the ability for vice presidential candidates to demonstrate their own fitness for the presidency;

McKinney notes great attention will be paid especially to Republican running mate Paul Ryan as this will be the single largest audience that Ryan has faced in his political career. Also, the stakes of this debate have been raised following the first presidential debate, with Ryan attempting to maintain momentum created by Mitt Romney with his strong first presidential debate performance, and Joe Biden now tasked with attempting to regain some momentum for the Democrats following President Barack Obama’s lackluster first debate.

In 1992, McKinney consulted with the Commission on Presidential Debates, advising the Commission on how debates could be structured in order to better educate citizens on significant campaign issues. The co-author of The 1992 Presidential Debates in Focus, he has co-authored and edited four other books and numerous research articles on presidential debates. Most recently, he advised the presidential debate commission of South Korea as Seoul officials planned their 2002 televised presidential debates.