DANVILLE, Ky. -
Sparks flew early and often as Joe Biden and Paul Ryan sparred over the economy and taxes, Medicare and the "47 percent" during the vice presidential debate Thursday night.
"That is a bunch of malarkey," the vice president retorted after a particularly tough Ryan attack on the administration's foreign policy.
"Not a single thing he said is accurate," Democrat Biden declared after Ryan said U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens had been denied sufficient security by administration officials. Stevens died in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
Both men seemed primed for a showdown from their opening moments on stage, and neither seemed willing to let the other one have the final word.
"I know you're under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don't interrupt each other," Republican Ryan said to his older rival at one point. But both continued to do so — and interrupted moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC as well.
The debate took place a little more than a week after President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney met in the first of their three debates — an encounter that has fueled a Republican comeback in opinion polls.
With Democrats eager for Biden to show the spark the president lacked, he did so.
Biden pounced on a Romney's secretly videotaped remarks at a fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans are victims who feel entitled to government handouts.
Biden said Romney's opposition to the Obama administration's auto industry bailout and government steps to prevent home foreclosures "shouldn't be surprising" given his comments that nearly half of Americans don't pay income tax.
"These people are my mom and dad, the people who I grew up with, my neighbors," Biden added. "They are elderly people ... they are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan."
Ryan's comeback drew one of the biggest laughs of the night.
"With respect to that quote, I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way," Ryan said, a jest at Biden's gaffe-prone ways.
Biden chuckled and shot back, "But I always say what I mean and so does Romney."
"It's about time they take responsibility" instead of signing pledges to avoid raising taxes, Biden said -- of Romney, Ryan and the Republicans.
But Ryan quickly turned to dreary economic statistics -- 23 million are struggling to work, he said, and 15 percent of the country is living in poverty. "This is not what a real recovery looks like."
Medicare was a flashpoint, as well. Ryan said Obama's health care plan had diverted $716 billion from the program for seniors and created a new board that could deny care to patients who need it.
Democrats "haven't put a credible solution on the table," he said. "They'll tell you about vouchers. They'll say all these things to try to scare people."