• With: Dan Henninger, Kim Strassel, Jason Riley, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Bret Stephens, Matthew Kaminski, Collin Levy

    But, Kim, this suggests -- this ad -- to me that they are not changing strategy. They're doubling down on their strategy of going after Mitt Romney.

    STRASSEL: Yes, if you thought it was ugly so far, just hold on. The problem the Democrats have is that, what Mitt Romney really did in Denver is he demolished, to a certain extent, their main campaign strategy. Their goal was to go out there and present him in a negative light. And they've spent an enormous amount of money, saying this guy is a rapacious millionaire, failed record, bad ideas, and then presented Barack Obama as the moderate alternative. He really took a sledgehammer to that. The problem is they don't have much better than that. They can't run on the economy. They can't run on the president's legislative record. People don't like it. So what they're going to do is they're now going to go straight after his character, suggest he has a credibility issue, call him a liar, say that he's a flip-flopper, and that's where they'll go for the rest of the election.

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: Yes, Mary?

    O'GRADY: I think Kim is touching on a really important point, which is fear is such a big part of the Obama campaign. I mean, he is trying to gin up fear for people who -- you know, you have 23 million people out of work and you tell them, by the way, this guy is going to take away every chance you have for health care?

    GIGOT: But when Romney comes in and looks like he's a reasonable guy, a competent fellow, he's not scary. He talks about his Medicare plan in pretty reasonable terms. He's non-radical.

    O'GRADY: That's exactly what I mean. That's why --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: You blow up the fantasy, the caricature, rather, of how he's been portrayed. And I think that helped him.

    O'GRADY: That's why the debate was so damaging for Obama.

    GIGOT: Are we going to see a movement in the polls, Dan, as a result of the debate?

    HENNINGER: I think we'll see some movement. Yes, I think Romney will get a bump. Whether he'll get one in Ohio is a good question. But he's got to keep that momentum going.

    GIGOT: Briefly, Jason?

    RILEY: I think he'll get something of a bump. But I think the most important outcome of the debate for Romney is that he energized the party and they believe they can win again. And I think that's an even more significant accomplishment in the short run than a bump in the polls.

    GIGOT: OK, Jason, thanks.

    Still ahead, one debate down, three more to go, believe it or not. The vice-presidential candidates get their turn next week in Kentucky. Can Paul Ryan keep the Republican momentum going in his face-off with Joe Biden?

    (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

    GIGOT: Vice-presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan get their chance when the two square off in Kentucky in their one-and-only debate.

    So, Jason, let's first talk about, you know, it's been I guess six weeks or so since the Paul Ryan selection. How well has he done on the ticket? How much has he added to the Romney campaign?

    RILEY: Well, I think he's helped to energize Republicans. And I think he's helped Romney. He's turned out to be a solid pick. The first rule of V.P. picks is do no harm.

    GIGOT: Right.

    RILEY: He's cleared that bar. I don't think he's helped as much in Wisconsin. Romney was hoping to get a pump there, maybe make it more competitive. The Real Clear Politics average has Obama above 50 percent there, up by about seven points. That hasn't panned out. They put a bunch of ads out after the convention and they wanted to put Wisconsin in play. That hasn't worked out. But overall, I think that Ryan has been a solid pick. Medicare reform has become part of the debate. And there's no real evidence out there that it's harming the ticket.

    GIGOT: Kim, the poll right after the Ryan pick, for the two weeks leading up to the Republican convention, showed the race had closed almost to basically to a tie. And then you have the two different conventions and the gap widened again. So I think you can make the case that Ryan helped but the conventions reopened the gap. And this debate could help -- could help the campaign again?

    STRASSEL: No, Ryan has been a net plus, because he's given a foundation to this campaign. And I think you probably have to argue that the Romney that you saw in Denver this week was, in part, a reflection of having a strong candidate like Paul Ryan by his side. And so that's what he's going to do, Paul Ryan himself, in Kentucky this coming week. Arguably, he's going to have a little bit of a harder row to hoe here going into the first presidential debate. Barack Obama, everyone expected he would win.

    GIGOT: Right.

    STRASSEL: And just Romney needed to put in a good performance. In fact, he did very well.

    The argument here is that Paul Ryan is so great -- and he will hold his own -- but no one should underestimate Joe Biden. He's going to be OK out there.

    GIGOT: This may be something of a trap for Ryan because, you know, the media expectation is he's going to do so well, he's a numbers guy, knows his brief, and so on, but Biden is a real slasher. And he's going to go after, I assume, Mitt Romney, hammer and tong. What does Ryan have to do here in this debate?

    HENNINGER: Well, he's going to have to fight back, Paul. There was once a debate called the kitchen debate. This is going to be the kitchen- sink debate.

    (LAUGHTER)

    Joe Biden is going to stand there throwing one kitchen sink after another at Ryan. He is going to bring up the 47 percent. He will bring up the war on women. He will bring up Bain Capital. He'll throw all of this stuff at Ryan.

    GIGOT: He'll throw the entire MSNBC agenda at him.

    HENNINGER: Exactly.

    (LAUGHTER)

    We'll see if it sticks.

    (LAUGHTER)

    HENNINGER: But part of the strategy there will be to pin Ryan down on defense, and prevent him from talking about the things he knows best, which are Medicare, taxes and financial stuff, the sort of things that Romney opened up for him in that initial debate. Romney unlocked Paul Ryan to a certain extent, and now he can leverage him if Ryan can get the space to talk about it in the debate.

    GIGOT: Mary?

    O'GRADY: He will -- I think what you can expect from Paul Ryan, he will repeat over and over again the $716 billion in Medicare cuts that Obama is putting on people who are right now relying on Medicare. And he will show -- he will try to show that his plan will actually save Medicare while Obama will destroy it. I think that's his greatest edge and that's where he's going to go.

    GIGOT: He's got a delicate task thought because I think he has to defend -- Jason, I think he has to defend Romney against what will be Biden's task, even as he turns around and tries to go after the president's agenda while showing his own competence on substance --