DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- At odds early and often, Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan squabbled over the economy, taxes, Medicare and more Thursday night in a contentious, interruption-filled debate.

Photos: Biden-Ryan and families at debate

Ryan cited the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya as evidence Thursday night that the administration's foreign policy is unraveling. Vice President Joe Biden shot back in campaign debate, That is a bunch of malarkey.

Not a single thing he said is accurate, Democrat Biden added in the opening moments of the only debate between the two vice presidential candidates in a national campaign with a little less than four weeks left to run.

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Both men seemed primed for a showdown in their opening moments on stage. Ryan said the administration had accorded insufficient security to Stevens, who was killed in a terrorist attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11 Biden said the budget that Ryan authored as chairman of the House Budget Committee had cut the Obama administration's funding request for diplomatic security by $300 million.

More: 8 key moments from past vice-presidential debates

The two men also tangled over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, administration steps to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and relations with Israel, an area where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney frequently accuses President Barack Obama of letting down the United States' closest ally in the Middle East.

Biden, 69, repeatedly accused Ryan of misstating the facts -- this is a bunch of stuff, he erupted at one point. But the 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman stood his ground. Iran is four years closer to having a nuclear weapon as Obama's term nears its end, he said.

The debate took place a little more than a week after Obama and Romney met in the first of their three debates -- an encounter that has fueled a Republican comeback in the polls. With Democrats eager for Biden to show the spark the president lacked, he did so early and often.

Unprompted, he brought up the videotape where Romney had said 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax and view themselves as victims who do not take responsibility for their own lives.

It's about time they take responsibility instead of signing pledges to avoid raising taxes, Biden said of Romney, Ryan and the Republicans. But Ryan quickly recited the dreary economic statistics -- 23 million are struggling to work, he said, and 15 percent of the country is living in poverty. This is not what a real recovery looks like. Romney has gained ground in national and battleground-state surveys in the week since he shared a stage with the president, and even Obama has conceded he performed poorly.

Asked directly when they could reduce unemployment to 6 percent from the current 7.8 percent, neither man answered directly. Instead, Biden repeated the president's contention that the nation is moving in the right direction, while Ryan repeated the Republican view that economic struggle persists even though Democrats had control of both houses of Congress during the first two years of Obama's term.

Where are the 5 million green jobs we were told would be created? Ryan said to Biden. Republicans and Democrats alike have said in recent days the race now approximates the competitive situation in place before the two political conventions.

The two men are generally separated by a point or two in national public opinion polls and in several battleground states, with Obama holding a slender lead in Ohio and Wisconsin.

Both men campaigned during the day as their political partners prepped for their moment on the debate stage.

After they meet next week in Hempstead, N.Y., Obama and Romney will have one more debate, Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

The veep showdown matched up two skilled politicians with strong policy credentials and very different styles. It's 69-year-old Biden's folksy appeal and solid vice presidential portfolio vs. 42-year-old Ryan's intensity and extensive knowledge of the federal budget and economy from 14 years in Congress.

After landing, the vice president got a good-luck call from Air Force One as President Barack Obama flew to Florida to rally swing state voters who will decide the election.

Like the second installment in a miniseries, the debate will help to shape the campaign narrative until Romney and Obama meet up again Tuesday. Obama is eager to change the vibe after his lackluster performance in the first debate and Romney's recent gains in the polls.

Thursday was a rare day when the political activities of the running mates were taking center stage and those of Obama and Romney were seen as secondary. But with just 26 days left until the election and the race still tight, neither Obama nor Romney was completely ceding the spotlight.

The president headed to Florida while his GOP opponent had his own debate prep at his hotel in Dayton, Ohio, Thursday morning before traveling to North Carolina, another battleground.

Obama, in a radio interview Wednesday with Tom Joyner, said he'd been too polite in his debate with Romney a sure sign that Biden won't be going easy on Ryan. And that Obama won't make the same mistake in the next two presidential debates, on Tuesday in Hempstead, N.Y., and Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

We've got four weeks left in the election, and we're going to take it to him, Obama said.

Later, in an interview with ABC News, Obama minimized the importance of his poor first debate performance, saying: Gov. Romney had a good night. I had a bad night. It's not the first time I've had a bad night.

He added: What's important is the fundamentals of what this race is about haven't changed.

The president, who had tried to lower expectations for his own performance before last week's debate, predicted in his radio interview that Biden would be terrific.

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