Biden and Ryan: Running Mates Gone Wild!

The right-hand men on the tickets are routinely overshadowing their senior partners and throwing the campaigns off message.

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Associated Press

The conventional wisdom that has long dictated vice presidential politicking can be boiled down to a pair of hard and fast rules. Number One: do no harm. Number Two: never allow the bottom of the ticket to overshadow the top of the ticket.

Apparently Joe Biden and Paul Ryan never got the memo.

Here we are, fewer than three months removed from Election Day, and Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have entered full-fledged campaign mode, jetting breathlessly between battleground states to raise money, energize supporters and make their case to undecided voters. Yet for much of the past week, their efforts have been largely eclipsed by their running mates, whose activities have, for better or worse, commanded considerably more attention from the press.

Consider the events of this week:

Monday morning's headlines were dominated by Romney's pick of Ryan -- including the dramatic VP rollout Saturday morning in Virginia, the enormous crowds they attracted Sunday morning in North Carolina and the emotional homecoming Ryan received Sunday night in his native Wisconsin. The initial media fixation with Ryan was to be expected, as the VP introduction is a seminal moment of any presidential campaign. Moreover, Ryan wasn't the boring running mate many expected. He's young, handsome and articulate, with a personality that's uniquely charming and an agenda that's incredibly polarizing. Romney's campaign fully expected -- and embraced -- Ryan's lengthy media honeymoon. Still, they wanted the focus kept on Romney -- which quickly proved easier said than done.

As Romney departed for campaign events in Florida, Ryan traveled from Wisconsin to neighboring Iowa -- where, not coincidentally, Obama was embarking on a three-day tour of the state that launched him to political stardom four years earlier. As the day unfolded, it became obvious that all eyes in the political world were on Ryan. While Obama and Romney drew large crowds at their respective stops in Iowa and Florida, Ryan's solo campaign debut at the Iowa State Fair -- where he spoke to thousands of supporters from the Fair's famous "soap box" -- drew substantially more media coverage. The next morning, when The Hotline sorted its news clips from Monday, Ryan's stack was more than twice the size of Romney's. It was, at least in the short term, a sign of things to come.

Tuesday started normally enough, with Obama's beer-soaked Iowa kickoff and Romney's Medicare Q&A in Miami leading the newest wave of headlines. That didn't last long, however: by mid-morning, the Twittersphere was abuzz with reports of Ryan's event in Colorado drawing an overflow crowd, adding to the media circus surrounding Romney's new running mate and distracting from the presidential nominee's concurrent campaign event in Ohio's coal country. Later Tuesday night, while Romney campaigned in Miami, Ryan met behind closed doors with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and other GOP mega-donors in Las Vegas -- another event that attracted considerable media attention. Romney found himself throughout the day Tuesday being overshadowed once again, but at least Ryan was generating positive buzz -- which is more than Obama could say for his running mate.

By Tuesday afternoon, Biden had transformed the presidential campaign into a media feeding frenzy after he told an audience in Danville, Virginia -- a city that's roughly 48 percent black -- that Romney and Republicans will "unchain Wall Street." Biden then lowered his voice and growled: "They're gonna put y'all back in chains." Within minutes Team Romney had pounced and Team Obama was doing damage control, with deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter telling MSNBC, "I appreciate the faux outrage from the Romney campaign .... We have no problem with those comments."

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Tim Alberta is editor of Hotline Last Call!, the afternoon newsletter of National Journal Hotline.

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