Vice President Joe Biden went toe-to-toe with challenger Paul Ryan on Thursday night during the only vice presidential debate of the 2012 election cycle, and the big question on everyone’s mind now is, Who won?

The question seems to be a tough one for voters to find consensus on, as two instant polls conducted afterward had different results. In CNN’s survey of registered voters, debate viewers found Ryan the victor, 48 percent to Biden’s 44 percent. However, a CBS News poll of uncommitted voters indicated a clear-cut win, by an even larger margin, for Biden, who scored 50 percent to 31 percent for Ryan.

Though both came out and dutifully sold the men at the top of their tickets to the American public, and though they did it all while trying to convince voters that they themselves are fit to lead in a heartbeat, Biden, indeed, won the debate.

Tough -- Or Too Tough?

The incumbent did exactly what President Barack Obama failed to do on Oct. 3 in the first round of three debates with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Biden called out the Romney campaign's flip-flops and its seemingly shaky values; he sought accountability for the 47 percent of Americans who were dismissed as moochers in a leaked video of Romney talking candidly to supporters; tackled the ramifications of Romney’s proposed low tax rate; and sought specifics on how the GOP won’t increase taxes on the middle class while providing $5 trillion in tax cuts.

These were debate points that were not only mission-critical, if you will, for the Obama campaign, but for a nation as a whole that wants more than hypotheticals about how the country will be run over the next four years. Granted, Biden, a seasoned debater, may have come off a little cold and at times disrespectful in the way he made those points. There were smirks and laughter from a goofy Biden who at one point called Ryan's responses "a bunch of malarkey."

“My friend recently, in a speech in Washington, said 30 percent of the American people are takers,” Biden said. “These people are my mom and dad, the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Governor Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now who are, quote, not paying any taxes.

“I’ve had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent -- it’s about time they take some responsibility here. And instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class, we’re going to level the playing field. We’re going to give you a fair shot again. We are going to not repeat the mistakes we made in the past by having a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street, making sure that we continue to hemorrhage these tax cuts for the superwealthy.”

Tax Math 

A polite Ryan, on whom the GOP was counting to continue the momentum, held his own and didn’t go down without a fight. However, it was specificity that mattered. Ryan defended his party’s policy proposals, tax cuts and plans to boost the economy. However, there was still no indication about how the Republicans will do things differently without negatively affecting the middle class. And that’s who both parties say they are fighting for.

“But we’re going in the wrong direction,” Ryan shot back at Biden, pointing out the limping economy, its slow growth and the 15 percent of Americans living in poverty. “This is not what a real recovery looks like. We need real reforms for a real recovery, and that’s exactly what Mitt Romney and I are proposing. It’s a five-point plan. Get America energy-independent in North America by the end of the decade. Help people who are hurting get the skills they need to get the jobs they want. Get this deficit and debt under control to prevent a debt crisis. Make trade work for America so we can make more things in America and sell them overseas and champion small businesses. Don’t raise taxes on small businesses, because they’re our job creators.”

The issue of taxes has been a contentious one for Romney, who has been hammered by Obama’s campaign on everything from his low tax rate to his tax plan. Romney pledges to cut income tax rates by 20 percent, resulting in some $5 trillion over a decade. Obama has countered that tax plan, saying these cuts are beneficial only to the wealthy. Of course, Romney has denied this time and time again. But last night was a chance for Ryan to set the record straight and that didn’t happen. There was no mention of any loopholes that would be closed or any deductions that would be eliminated.

Moderator Martha Raddatz pressed Ryan on the specifics, but none were forthcoming.

“We want to work with Congress on how best to achieve this,” Ryan said. “What we’re saying is lower tax rates 20 percent, start with the wealthy, work with Congress to do it.”

Ryan guaranteed the math will add up because, “Six studies have verified that this math adds up.”

Several tax experts have also said it won’t.

Though it has been said that the vice presidential debates won’t have much effect on swaying voter decisions, the Biden-Ryan tango did do one thing: It certainly reenergized followers on both sides. Beyond that, however, there was more substance to Biden’s argument -- even if his at times condescending smirks and laughter took away from the fact that the veteran does know what he is talking about.

A vice president should be able to step up to the plate to lead in a heartbeat, and Biden showed that he was in tune with the specifics of Obama’s plans and how they were going to be carried out.

The worry among Democrats was that Obama was too nice in last week’s debate. The next step now is for voters to hear the president argue his plans like he believes in them. Biden did, and so did Romney.