by Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
DANVILLE, Ky. -- The vice presidential debate lasted 90 minutes. But in the "spin room," the argument isn't over until the last surrogate leaves.
"All you heard from the vice president is laughter and excuses," said Brendan Buck, spokesman for Rep. Paul Ryan. "Nobody wants to see him laughing while there are 22 million Americans out of work. There was one person on stage who was the serious adult, and that was Paul Ryan."
"First of all, that's a loser's argument," responded President Obama adviser David Axelrod. But then he ran with the metaphor: "I think it looked like the school principal debating the class president."
Biden, he said, spoke with conviction. Ryan spoke with "cue cards and rehearsed lines."
And so on. In a forum where one-liners and talking points are prized even more highly than the debate itself, Republicans portrayed Biden as churlish to the point of being unpresidential. Democrats cast Ryan as lacking substance and specifics.
The spin room gives both sides a chance to bend the narrative in their direction in front of cable television cameras and hundreds of reporters.
Thursday night's venue was located in a gymnasium, across the street from the debate hall and home to the Division III NCAA Centre College Colonels. It was arranged like an oversized, carpeted boxing ring, with the Ryan camp in one corner, the Biden camp in the other and surrounded on all sides by television cubicles.
Five minutes before the scheduled end of the debate, Democratic surrogates flooded the room, with aides waving their blue name signs alongside them. A few minutes later, the red-signed Republicans marched in, attaching themselves to the Democrats like they were playing man-to-man defense.
The question to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who helped Biden prepare for the debate: What did the vice president eat for breakfast? "He clearly had his Wheaties -- for the middle class," Van Hollen said, mentioning the middle class a half-dozen times in the next minute. "What you saw tonight was someone who understands from the heart and instinctively knows the middle class, vs. someone who just discovered the middle class on the campaign trail."
In the age of social media, where armchair pundits watching the debate from home can deliver real-time verdicts on the performance of the candidates, the "spin room" seems like an anachronism.The debate had barely begun when the rebuttals started. Before Ryan could even say a word, Axelrod tweeted: "Ryan already shifts: allows himself to be introduced as Congressman, after all!" Early reports were that Ryan's camp had asked that he not be addressed by that title.
And when Biden said "malarkey" in response to an answer on Libya from Ryan, the response on Twitter was instantaneous. A minute later, Jake Fogelnest of Los Angeles tweeted, "Is #malarkey trending yet?" Indeed it was.
An hour into the debate, the #nospecifics and #factsmatter hashtags were also trending, reflecting the Obama camp's attacks that Ryan was vague and misleading.
For Republicans, it was Biden's demeanor that provided the most grist for the in-debate and post-debate spin. Romney spokesman Ryan Williams portrayed Biden on Twitter as "cranky, angry, confused, annoying, unpresidential."
For all the tweeting and spinning outside, tweeting from inside the debate hall was expressly prohibited. Commission on Presidential Debates Co-Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf admonished the audience that -- even if they could do it silently -- the lights could be distracting. "If you can go 90 minutes without tweeting, I know that's difficult in this day and age," he said