'Stick it to him, Joe!' shouted one supporter
Obama supporters who gathered at Mahall’s bar and bowling alley near Cleveland wanted an aggressive defence of the president’s policies to make up for Barack Obama‘s bloodless performance last week.
And they got it, for better and for worse.
“Stick it to him, Joe!” shouted one supporter, as the debate got under way. He didn't waste any time: Within minutes vice-president Joe Biden had managed no less than three attacks on his Republican rival Paul Ryan.
Where Mr Obama had pulled punches, then his running-mate Joe Biden was shooting from the lip.
He repeatedly drew attention to Mitt Romney’s damning comments about the 47 per cent of Americans who saw themselves as “victims” who relied on government support. And each time he did, he drew a round of cheers from the supporters in Mahall’s.
“I’ve had it up to here with this notion that, ‘Forty-seven per cent, it’s about time they take some sort of responsibility here’,” Mr Biden said.
Some of the loudest cheers came when Mr Biden launched a staunch defence of the administration’s decision to bail out the car industry, which accounts for one out of every eight jobs in this part of Ohio.
“I’ve never met two guys who’re more down on America across the board. We’re told everything’s going bad. There are 5.2 million new jobs, private-sector jobs,” Mr Biden said, as the room erupted to claps and cheers.
But Mr Biden was also, at times, his worst enemy.
As Mr Ryan spoke, the vice-president smiled broadly in theatrical disbelief, even as discussion centred on highly sensitive subjects such as the deaths of US diplomats in Libya. The effect was heightened by the split-screen used by the TV stations, which kept both candidates in view at all times.
“Stop smiling for God’s sake,” fumed one Democrat, shaking his head. “Just stop smiling.”
The vice-president (69) also repeatedly interrupted the 42-year-old candidate and adopted a sometimes patriarchal air, which came within an inch of smugness.
“I know you’re under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground,” Mr Ryan shot back, at one point. Even the Democrats in the room had to laugh.
Mr Ryan was smart, articulate and forceful. He was on top of complex foreign policy issues and scored points on issues such as the economy.
But as the debate went on, Mr Biden’s personality grew and dominated the debate. In general, his tone struck the kind of chord his supporters - if not necessarily swing voters - wanted. At Mahall’s, you could sense the room of Obama supporters begin to relax as the vice-president got into his stride.
“Not a single thing he said is accurate,” Mr Biden said after Mr Ryan’s first answer. “That’s a bunch of malarkey,” he exclaimed. The crowd whooped in support. After an hour and a half, Democrats - whose confidence had been shaken by last week’s debate - were feeling reinvigorated.
"My reaction?" said Chris Marano (28) an Obama supporter from Lakeside in Cleveland. “It’s exactly what I wanted out of Joe. I knew Ryan would try to continue the momentum Romney had in the last debate. He stopped that, for the most part, and spelled out the different views between Democrats and Republicans."
Cindy Marx (61), a practice manager for a plastic surgeon, acknowledged that Mr Biden’s body language and smiling might have been inappropriate at times. "But Biden was the clear winner. He came across as very strong and very knowledgable about decisions he and the president have made.”
The debate is unlikely to change the race, at least not in the way last week’s performance by Mr Romney did. But, if the reaction of Democrats at this bowling alley in Cleveland is anything to go by, it has injected new life into supporters who may have begun to panic over recent days.