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After a devastating debate performance, Biden aides try to reassure panicky Democrats

WASHINGTON — The debate was always going to be a gamble for Joe Biden — but the bet may prove more costly than he imagined after he gave what was roundly panned as a bumbling and incoherent performance.

Alarmed by the spectacle, some Democrats fretted that they might need to dump Biden from the ticket, even as his campaign aides insisted that nothing about the evening should disqualify him as a candidate.

Heading into the debate, Biden’s advisers believed that once voters got a close look at the unfiltered Donald Trump — once they heard his outbursts and taunts — they’d appreciate Biden’s steadiness and realize they had no choice but to give him another term.

So they pitched a debate months earlier than usual, and Trump accepted.

Minutes in, the plan seemed to have backfired.

Biden gave a shaky performance, speaking in a hoarse voice that at times trailed off into incomprehensibility. In split-screen shots, Biden kept his mouth agape while he was listening to questions and answers, a contrast to his opponent's look of cold determination.

After he discussed the social safety net, he inexplicably pronounced, “We beat Medicare,” the popular program that provides health care to older Americans.

“He did beat Medicare; he beat it to death,” Trump replied.

Watching the performance, Biden’s advisers were initially worried. They said his hoarseness stemmed from a cold. But they hadn’t prepared viewers by explaining his condition in advance, making Biden’s delivery all the more jarring.

Even Biden’s former communications director Kate Bedingfield said afterward that “it was a really disappointing debate performance from Joe Biden.”

The mood inside Biden’s campaign offices brightened as he gradually gained footing and his voice

Read more on nbcnews.com