The television channel swiftly switched from local coverage to a lit, patriotically adorned auditorium as two men walked out across the floor and onto the national stage.

Sitting around a small table at Centre College in Danville, Ky. Thursday night, Vice President Joseph Biden and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) faced off in the first and only vice presidential debate of the election season.

The debate, which focused on both foreign and domestic policy, was the second installment in a series of debates scattered throughout the election season, the first of which was held between President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney last week.

Sporting red and blue ties and American flag pins, Biden, 69, and Ryan, 42, established their partisan agendas early on, with Biden criticizing Romney’s proposed policies and Ryan pointing out shortfalls in the Obama administration in the past four years.

Martha Raddatz, an ABC news reporter and moderator of the debate, guided the night’s discussion, which began with the discussion of foreign policy ““ specifically the death of a U.S ambassador following an attack on the U.S. Embassy last month.

The debate then proceeded to issues in domestic policy, including the state of the American economy, and the Medicare and Social Security programs.

Professor of psychology and political science David Sears anticipated that the Romney-Ryan economic recovery plan, which centers around job growth and decreased federal spending, would play a key role in the debate.

“Ryan needs to make the case that the numbers add up in his economic plan,” Sears said before the debate. “Biden needs to make the case that they don’t.”

When prompted by Raddatz to “level” with Americans about the state of the economy, Biden and Ryan elaborated on their differing views of the United States government.

Biden cited statistics from the past four years as evidence of economic recovery, pledged his allegiance to the middle class, and pointed out Romney’s 2008 column in The New York Times calling to “let Detroit go bankrupt” when the automobile industry crashed that year.

Ryan, on the other hand, criticized the Obama administration for its handling of the recession and stimulus package, and advocated his party’s devotion to small businesses as job creators.

“Both (Biden and Ryan) have been in Congress long enough consciously talking about these things,” said Thomas Schwartz, a professor of political science with a focus in American politics. “They are both reasonably competent and are deserving statesmen.”

Still, there is no evidence of vice presidential debates ““ or any debates ““ having an actual impact on the outcome of the election, Schwartz said. Historically, debates hold little bearing on peoples’ perceptions of candidates, he added.

“The last time I remember people making comments about (a VP debate) is Cheney versus Lieberman in 2000,” he said.

The position of the vice presidency itself also holds little meaning, logistically, he added.

“Unless the president dies, the vice president has no job,” Schwartz said.

Apart from the actual debate, Sears said the media’s post-event coverage would be important in shaping the audience’s perception. There were big stakes, including the future of education at all levels, on the table for Thursday’s debate and for the election as a whole, he said.

“Debates are really complex organisms,” Sears said. “All the media frenzy afterward is a way of clarifying all the facts and figures.”

Last week’s debate between Obama and Romney reflected a noteworthy shift in voter attitude, said Gary Orfield, a professor of education and political science. A Gallup poll released Tuesday showed Romney leading Obama 49 percent to 47 percent following their debate.

“It’s clear the first debate really did damage the president and the Democratic party as a whole,” Orfield said. “We’ll have to wait and see about (the impact of) this one.”

Obama and Romney will square off once again next Tuesday on foreign and domestic policy, the second-to-last debate of the season.

_khafner@media.ucla.edu _