Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney (R) with his running mate, Paul Ryan
Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan pull up a couple of chairs for a vice presidential debate that has mushroomed in importance since Mitt Romney's strong showing in the first presidential faceoff. This time, it's the Obama team looking to put the brakes on the other guy's momentum.
The veep showdown matches 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, reports The Associated Press.
"Looking forward to it," Biden said Thursday as he boarded his plane for Kentucky with his children and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who has been playing Ryan in practice debate sessions.
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.
Romney, for his part, is hoping a strong Ryan performance will help propel Republicans forward on an energetic drive through the campaign's final weeks.
The 90-minute debate at Centre College, a liberal arts school with just 1,340 students in tiny Danville, is sure to draw a television audience of tens of millions.
But it's unlikely to eclipse the 70 million who tuned in to watch Biden face off with Republican firebrand, Sarah Palin four years ago.
That debate was more of a curiosity: It allowed Palin to outdo Biden in folksiness and recover from a series of painfully awkward media interviews but did little to alter the trajectory of the race.
"Normally vice presidential debates are good political theater and sort of interesting from a talent scout standpoint, as you evaluate the up-and-comers on the political stage," says Alan Schroeder, author of a book on presidential debates. "But this year could be different because of the negative reviews of Obama's performance. That heightens expectations for this second debate."
"Joe just needs to be Joe," Obama said, when asked his advice for the vice president in an interview Wednesday with ABC News.
Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod, appearing Thursday on "CBS This Morning," said he believes "the big challenge for him is to pin Congressman Ryan down."
"Right now the Romney campaign is running away from some of their positions like unwanted stepchildren," Axelrod said.
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 was hunting for votes in Florida while his GOP opponent devoted time to North Carolina, another battleground.
Thursday's debate, moderated by Martha Raddatz of ABC News, will cover both foreign and domestic topics. The debate is to be divided into nine, 10-minute segments. At the outset of each segment, Raddatz will ask an opening question, and each candidate will have two minutes to respond.