In the only vice-presidential debate of 2012, Republican Paul Ryan and Democrat Joe Biden came out swinging, pleasing both their bases. The narrow edge goes to Biden, who returned momentum to Democrats smarting from President Barack Obama’s lackluster first debate.

Ryan scored by not looking overpowered by the sitting vice president, who is 27 years his senior.

The moderator, Martha Raddatz, covered a lot of ground and offered good questions. While interruptions by both candidates were many, it was a lively performance. Even so, a year from now, we don’t expect this debate to be considered a major turning point or even memorable.

Biden, grinning and shaking his head often, did what was needed for the Democratic ticket by clearly pointing out the lack of specifics on the Republican tax plan math. The vice president also forcefully painted the Mitt Romney-Ryan ticket as not being a friend of the middle class. And Biden defended the administration’s foreign policy and America’s improved world image.

Even better for the Democrats, the gaffe-prone Biden escaped the evening without any to haunt him. His energy, passion and “malarkey” comments jelled for an image of man thoroughly enjoying his time in the hot seat.

Ryan faced a lower bar to count the night a success, facing his first national debate, and Republicans should not be disappointed. He held his own, kept his tendency to show a peeved side mostly in check, and by doing so, rose to the challenge to appear to be a man fit for second in command.

For us, the most troubling part of the debate was the lack of time on the economy and the lack of specifics in the Republican budget plans. After two debates, the Republicans have professed great hope in their ability to add millions of jobs, improve personal incomes and do it all by lowering tax rates and maintaining a strong defense.

What they haven’t done is offer a plausible way to do so, and Ryan skirted several opportunities to present those ideas to the American people.

Vague promises should not be enough, no matter how much Romney and Ryan repeat them.

For the next presidential debate, this is the topic we’d like to hear much more about.

In recent days, Romney has been moving to the center on a number of issues, and Ryan did so on a few as well during his debate. One question is how the modified stances, including on abortion, will play with the tea party right.

Biden wisely zeroed in on the Romney 47 percent freeloader comments, pushing the idea that the GOP isn’t a friend of the middle class. He reminded listeners of Romney’s past positions of letting the auto industry fail and opposing Democratic attempts to halt massive home foreclosures.

Ryan effectively emphasized that the economic recovery is not where Americans wish it to be and accused the Obama administration of overseeing a weak foreign policy.

With his debate performance, Biden offered his boss a good model for his next appearance on a stage with Romney: be engaged, pointed, combative and personable. Ryan, while less persuasive than his potential boss was in last week’s debate with Obama, still didn’t disappoint during his time sitting next to Biden.

Next up is a town hall format for Obama and Romney. The variety in format and staging has worked well for the public.

Americans can be pleased that the debate commission and the candidates offer voters such good opportunities to judge the contenders in the very best kind of reality TV.

Editorial by The Kansas City Star

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