DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) — 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.
Like the second installment in a miniseries, it will help to shape the campaign narrative until Romney and Obama themselves 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 that 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."