VP candidates lay groundwork for top of ticket on Tuesday

Obama Romney Debate (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential contender Paul Ryan plowed fertile ground in terms of policy and politics during their debate — now the question is whether the presidential candidates can reap what was sown.

Biden aggressively pressed Ryan on Thursday to defend his ticket’s positions on everything from Medicare to trimming the nation’s debt to the way forward in dealing with Iran.

Biden tried to frame the election as a choice between different directions for the country by contending policies of the Mitt Romney-Ryan ticket would hurt the middle class and move the nation backward on social issues, like gay rights and abortion.

In doing so, Biden helped set up President Barack Obama to further those arguments during the second presidential debate on Tuesday in New York, political experts say.

For his part, Ryan was equally hard-charging and vigorously put forth the ticket’s domestic and foreign policy proposals in exchanges that were at times sharp and pointed.

Ryan repeatedly sought to focus the debate on the Obama-Biden record of the last four years, arguing the administration’s policies hindered economic recovery and weakened the nation’s standing and influence in the world.

Romney is now well-primed to drive that message home.

A CNN-ORC International poll released after the debate suggested voters who watched narrowly favored Ryan over Biden by 48%-44%, a statistically even result. That followed an overwhelming Romney victory in their first of three debates.

“I think they both accomplished the kinds of things they wanted to accomplish,” said John Geer, chairman of Vanderbilt University’s political science department.

Political analysts say Biden also helped re-energize Democrats, whose spirits might have flagged after Obama’s lackluster performance in last week’s debate.

“The most important Job Biden did for Obama is reawakening the depressed Democratic base,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Biden has primed them for a better performance from Obama.”

What Biden failed to do, some political analysts say, is make the case that Obama deserves another four years. That’s up to the president when he takes the stage next week.

Ron Brownstein, a CNN senior political analyst and editorial director of the National Journal, said “as strong as Biden was,” there was almost nothing on what a second Obama term would mean for America, especially on the economy.

“That is still the big missing piece in their argument,” Brownstein said.

Ryan was able to capitalize on Romney’s momentum from his well-received debate performance. The Wisconsin congressman’s performance further smooths Romney’s path to charge ahead, political experts say.

“Ryan was a steady, unflappable presence onstage who made an articulate set of arguments in favor of conservative principles while also seeming sensitive and reasonable to many moderates,” David Gergen, a senior political analyst for CNN, wrote Friday. “Ryan was also surprisingly strong on foreign policy, holding his own against a man far more schooled in the subject.”

However, some political watchers said Ryan’s response on women’s health issues could prove problematic for Romney during the next two debates.

“It’s kind of the untalked about thing this morning — raised a bunch of issues for the campaigns to be talking about over the next couple of weeks,” Hilary Rosen, a Democratic pundit and CNN contributor, said. “Yes, the economy is important, but when women have to worry about their health care and the economy, that’s just an extra burden.”

But CNN contributor and RedState blogger Erick Erickson, appearing on “CNN Newsroom” with Rosen, said most women agree with the Romney-Ryan position.

“I’m sorry, Hilary, but you’re just wrong on this,” he said. “In the Gallup poll, the Pew poll, Mason Dixon poll, you name it, they show that the majority of women in this country, they are pro-life. They consider themselves for pro-life, with the exceptions Paul Ryan named (in the debate).”