All eyes will be on Danville, Ky., Thursday night as Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan take the stage at Centre College for their first and only debate of the campaign.
Biden and Ryan will meet one week after President Barack Obama shocked supporters and pundits with his lackluster performance against Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during their first debate, which has made Obama’s lead in the polls largely vanish.
Notably, Biden’s appearance on Thursday will be the first time since May that he has addressed a national television audience while fielding questions from a reporter. At the time, May 6, Biden appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press and clearly stated his support for marriage equality.
Asked by David Gregory if he was comfortable with same-sex marriage, Biden responded, “I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.”
Gregory then asked Biden if the Obama administration would come out in support of same-sex marriage in a second term. Although Biden said he did not know, just three days later Obama also endorsed marriage equality, becoming the first sitting American president to do so.
With Obama in the midst of a re-election campaign, many speculated that Biden’s remarks had forced Obama’s hand on the issue, forcing the president to “evolve” on marriage equality at a pace more rapid than he would have preferred.
And as ABC News points out, Biden has not been heard from on the national airwaves since then.
Biden has made numerous campaigns stops covered by the press, but engaged in only a few on-the-record interviews. In none of those interviews has he been before a national audience quite like he was during his May appearance on Meet the Press.
In contrast, Ryan has conducted hundreds of interviews with local and national television outlets.
That will all change on Thursday evening when millions tune in to see Biden and Ryan go toe-to-toe and field questions from a debate moderator, Martha Raddatz, a senior foreign correspondent for ABC News.
Asked about Biden’s absence from the national television circuit, the Obama campaign did not indicate whether there has been an intentional effort to keep Biden, long known for his off-the-cuff remarks, from saying too much in the last months of the campaign.
“Day after day, event after event, the Vice President has been traveling across the country all year making the case about what’s truly at stake in this election, taking Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan’s agenda head on and making clear why President Obama is the right choice for middle class families,” an Obama campaign official said in a statement to Metro Weekly. “In more than 115 events this year, the Vice President has been campaigning in states across the country directly connecting with voters in their communities.”
Biden has been absent from the campaign trail for about a week prior to tomorrow’s debate. According to the White House, Biden has spent the last three days at his home in Wilmington, Del., presumably preparing for the vice presidential debate.
[Photo: Vice President Joe Biden on Meet the Press in May declaring his support for marriage equality.]