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Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan faced off Thursday night. Both candidates had been preparing for weeks, and Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen played a substanial role in the prep on the Democratic side, standing in for Congressman Ryan in Joe Biden's rehearsals. WAMU Maryland reporter Matt Bush speaks with All Things Considered host Pat Brogan about what this represents for Van Hollen's standing within the party.
What do we know about Van Hollen's role and why was he selected?
"Van Hollen is portraying Paul Ryan in these debate preps with the VP right now. He's a rising member in his party, he's one of the higher-ranking members on the Democratic side on the House. Probably the biggest reason he was chosen to do this is that he is the ranking member of the Democratic Party on the House Committee on the Budget, and Paul Ryan has certainly made his name with his budget proposals in the Republican Party. Chris Van Hollen probably knows him as well as anybody, so he wants to make sure that he's the one that can speak to this to the Vice President, show the things that Paul Ryan is probably going to say tonight."
"And I think this also shows that this is what the Democrats and Biden are going to focus on tonight when they do this debate. They are going to want to focus on Congressman Ryan's proposals in the House that he has put forward, believing that this is going to give them some political points, some political jump. They believe these proposals, once they are given some harsher light, are not going to be liked by the majority of Americans."
Given national polls that show the two candidates are neck and neck, what's the status of the Presidential race in Maryland?
"The Presidential election is not close. The last two polls that I've seen, the Baltimore Sun has it 57 to 34 percent for President Obama, and the Gonzalez poll is 55 to 36 percent, so the Presidential race in Maryland is not close. It is one of the most solidly blue states in the country. The Senate race in Maryland is also not close with Ben Cardin polling around 50 percent."
"In many ways, the bigger result in that race is going to be whether Republican nominee Dan Bongino can out-poll Independent candidate Rob Sobhani, who in one poll showed they neck and neck for second place. It's showing that the Republicans in Maryland are really struggling right now with statewide races. In two years, they have to pick a gubernatorial nominee, and for the first time since 1998, it won't be Bob Ehrlich. So it's a party that needs to get direction quickly, because right now the numbers are not good for Republicans in Maryland."
Vice President Biden expressed strong support for same-sex marriage earlier this year, and that issue is on the ballot in Maryland this November, what's the latest in that debate in the state?
"It is on the ballot. Now, if you've been watching television ads, you might not know that anything other than gaming is on the ballot, given all the money that has been spent on that issue in Maryland, but it is there. Right now, it's passing by about a 4-5 percent margin, so it's above the statistical margin of error in those polls right now. We're going to start seeing the advertisements start soon though, targeting the last few people who haven't made up their minds about the issue. There aren't many — this is an issue that I think most people have their minds made up on. The ads will start coming soon in that race, and I think we may see a few regarding the DREAM Act. Polls show that passing by an even larger margin by same-sex marriage. To be honest with you in Maryland, all the advertising is just being completely dwarfed by the expanded gaming issue. The amount of money spent on the gaming issue in Maryland is now more than was spent on the governor's race in 2006."