Finley: Biden finds the old Joe in Detroit
Sleepy Joe woke up in Detroit Wednesday night.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who was handed the "sleepy" moniker from President Donald Trump, came to his second Democratic debate much more engaged than he was a month ago at the face-off in Miami, and far better prepared to defend his long record in politics.
Biden, 76, skipped onto the Fox Theatre stage and waited there for his nemesis in that first debate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, greeting her with a joshing, "Go easy on me, kid."
It was vintage Uncle Joe, a politician whose political career has been sustained on charm and easy familiarity, and street-fighter grit when needed.
Biden seemed to understand his challenge: Appear in command. Diminish Harris without bullying her. Defend his record. Have the discipline not to be dragged away from the political center by his progressive opponents. And make voters forget the fact that if he wins the presidency, he will be the oldest president ever sworn into office for a first term.
Benefiting from an aggressive fitness routine and, if you believe the photographs, hair plugs and a face smoothing, Biden defied his age, and ignored the fact that Harris was intentionally speaking down to him as if he were daft.
He was determined in defending his own health care plan, which centers on reforming Obamacare, and relentless in tearing down the one offered by Harris and others who offered up various versions of Medicare for All.
He didn't buckle under a withering barrage of questions about President Barack Obama's deportation of 3 million undocumented immigrants. And he grabbed every opportunity to play the Obama card.
It truly was Biden vs. everybody. But he didn't wobble. And he managed to occasionally pivot away from his Democratic challengers and toward Trump. In all, it was a solid performance from the clear front-runner.
After his stumbles in Miami, where he seemed not to realize he was in for a fight, Biden's poll numbers fell sharply. But they have gradually come back, largely because no other candidate rose to fill the void.
Harris had an impressive beginning, commanding the stage and controlling the clock, but she seemed to wilt under the frustration of not being able to land a staggering blow on her chief opponent.
She allowed New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has no chance of winning the nomination, to carry her water for large stretches.
Biden's numbers aren't likely to dip after this debate. By focusing all of their energy on punches that never quite landed, his opponents again squandered their opportunities to set themselves apart.
Now, Biden has to prove he can sustain the vigor he showed Wednesday over a long and grueling campaign.
Bottom line: Joe Biden leaves Detroit in no worse shape than when he came in, which for a front-runner is a victory. And his opponents, at least the ones who were matched against him Wednesday, leave no better off.