Tonight was a battle for voters in the middle. Both parties put their finest soldiers in the field. Better equipped than Obama and Romney -- distant and aloof standard-bearers -- Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan grew up among the ranks of the people they need to win. And tonight on the TVs across middle-class America, Joe Biden was a hero.
The debate featured starkly different strategies to win over these voters -- the same strategies that Biden and Ryan display every day on the campaign trail. Ryan blends intelligence with a Midwest, precocious, "Gee-Golly-Shucks" cadence that endears him to voters. Biden takes the tone of a Rust Belt, seasoned curmudgeon connecting through shared experience and weary grit.
Tonight Obama needed a champion, an advocate, and a force that did what he failed to do: show a contrast with Gov. Romney and rekindle the post-DNC enthusiasm. Joe was that force. Ironically, four years after Sen. Obama motivated deep enthusiasm in the electorate that eluded candidates from the Party Establishment, but tonightit was the Establishment that prevented Obama's decline. Like he did many times before, Biden served dutifully, not only in service to his president but to his party and his country. He struck hard at Ryan (with a little too much smirking) over the details of Middle East politics, the realities of economic recovery, the benefits of stimulus, interest group support of Obamacare, tax rates, and abortion coverage under ACA. He refused to let a criticism go unmatched. Any voter who might have asked "Will I be better under another four years of Obama?" Biden showed up tonight to say 'You betcha!'
He didn't shy from talking economics nor war nor abortion nor debt. He savored it. For the all of the beltway mumbling that labeled Congressman Ryan a "wonk." It was the Vice President who sold Obama's vision and policies to voters. Biden came to Danville, KY to connect with the swing voters who are in such high political demand. He did. He went to the debate to motivate the base. He did. He took to the stage to stem the bleeding--not just in the polls, but in the media narrative. Tomorrow will show us, he did.
Moreover, he connected with seniors "AARP endorsed our health care spending", with women "I refuse to impose my views to impose my views [on abortion] on others", with deployed soldiers "Afghans are fighting their war. Afghans!" Old man Joe even connected with younger voters "under Romney's plan you'll get $4600 less a year in Social Security".
Is the election over? No. Obama-Biden received substantial momentum from tonight's debate. But two debates remain, and voters' memories can be short. For sure, the people in Chicago are happier tonight than they were this morning, (and last week) but a Vice Presidential debate does not determine an election outcome.
Sure, Biden changed the way voters will discuss the race at work tomorrow, how the media will report momentum, and how voters will perceive these candidates. Tonight, Joe was a good soldier, but he knows the war is yet to be won.
This post originally appeared on Brookings.edu.