A man elected to the U.S. Senate at age 29 should be quite familiar with the young vice presidential contender's unique mix of cockiness, competence, ambition, and nerves.
Joe Biden, 69, was elected a United States senator when Paul Ryan was not yet three years old and first took part in a presidential debate in 1987, when he was older than Ryan, 42, is now. The vice presidential showdown in Kentucky Thursday night is going to feature a difference in years greater than the age of your circa-2008 Obama-voting college student, even four years later.
Pouring into this gap in experience will be all the standard tropes about whippersnappers and graybeards, callow youth and bumbling age. It's not every day you get a contest featuring a Gen X guy proud of his pecs and his PowerPoints going head-to-head with a senior-citizen model of pre-Baby Boomer vitality and old-school political glad-handing. Biden's taken part in 18 presidential or vice-presidential debates in his lengthy career; Ryan has debated only a handful of times, during his first congressional race in 1998, when he faced off against a Democratic alderman, a woman 19 years his senior, for his Wisconsin district. He even has less experience debating before a major audience than Sarah Palin, having never run a statewide race before being plucked for the vice-presidential slot by Mitt Romney, who saw in him a kindred spirit.