War zones, body language off-camera at debates

By Philip Elliott

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 11 2012 9:11 p.m. MDT

Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin participate in the vice presidential debate at Centre College, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky.

Mark Humphrey, Associated Press

DANVILLE, Ky. — Most voters watching the debate from home didn't get to see what happened before and after Vice President Joe Biden and Republican challenger Paul Ryan went on stage Thursday. Even then, some exchanges were lost in broadcast.

Here's what those voters missed:

BEFORE THE DEBATE

In the minutes leading up to the debate, moderator Martha Raddatz took her seat with her back to the audience. She joked that she is used to reporting from war zones, a place where she seldom turns her back on anyone.

After a few awkward moments of silence, she spun around in her chair and tried to warm up the crowd. "Anybody have any questions?" she asked to laughter.

Several times, Raddatz turned and looked to the balcony, where TV networks filmed pre-debate coverage. Most correspondents were quiet, but the voice of Fox News Channel's Bret Baier boomed throughout the hall.

When the debate was about to begin, Baier again introduced himself to viewers just tuning in. Raddatz pointedly turned around — to more laughter from the crowd.

IN ROMNEY'S SUITE

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took in the first and only vice presidential debate from his hotel suite in Asheville, N.C., surrounded by campaign aides and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.

On the television, as Biden answered Raddatz's first question about Libya, Romney turned to his left and asked his aides: "Will Paul attack on this?"

Romney, in a white shirt and tie, otherwise sat with his hands on his knees and watched the flat-screen TV.

Asked to make a prediction on Ryan's responses, Romney said simply: "I think Paul will do great."

BODY LANGUAGE

Between answers, Biden clutched his hands impatiently. At other times, he jotted points on a notepad.

Ryan listened and kept his hands folded from across the table, occasionally scribbling notes on full-size sheets of copy paper.

But when Ryan made statements that annoyed Biden, the vice president repeatedly stretched his left arm across the table toward Ryan — coming close to covering Ryan's notes.

TWITTER REPONSE

Twitter commentators focused for much of the first half of the debate on Biden's demeanor — Democrats called it a smile while Republicans called it a smirk.

Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush's political director, tweeted: "Biden doing best imitation of Al Gore 00. Snickers, grimaces, and exaggerated gestures."

At one point, New York Times columnist Nickolas Kristof posted, "Biden is pretty good at being sarcastic and lacerating, without coming across as nasty."

AFTER THE DEBATE

At the end, Ryan's family jumped onto the stage, led by his daughter, to greet Ryan. His two sons, wife and mother also joined the congressman.

Ryan then took his family across the stage, as if to meet the Bidens. The vice president lingered with Ryan's mother, Betty, and wife, Janna.

After the candidates left the stage, Biden aide Sam Myers went on stage to collect Biden's notes.

But while the adults chatted, Ryan's younger son sat down in Ryan's chair. He then skipped off stage.

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