By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
DANVILLE, Ky. - Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan will be watched by "Dead Fred" Thursday night when they face off in their vice presidential debate.
He will be observing their discussion from an alcove above the stage in the Centre College auditorum on this pastoral campus in central Kentucky.
"Dead Fred" is the endearing name for the portrait of Frederick Moore Vinson, a Centre College graduate who died in office as the 13th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court 59 years ago.
Phi Delta Theta fraternity received permission to bring "Dead Fred" to the debate in keeping with the frat's longtime tradition of taking him to major campus events, including football games.
Vinson's portrait was present in the same auditorium at the 2000 vice presidential debate between then Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican Dick Chaney.
Vinson is one of Kentucky's most historic figures, having also served in Congress for 12 years and as Secretary of the Treasury under President Truman. He was appointed chief justice by Truman.
Students call the 2012 faceoff "Thrill in the 'Ville II," in recognition of the small college's role in hosting two national debates in 12 years.
The auditorium will be packed with news media, campaign supporters, students and locals who were lucky enough to land tickets to the event.
More than 30 million voters are expected to watch the faceoff on national television. Martha Raddatz of ABC News will serve as moderator.
Danville, a town of 16,000, has been prepping for the event with signs, flowers, American flags, bunting, and a stockpile of merchandise. One bar features "Ryan's Budget" and "Biden's Tongue" cocktails.
Jeff Alexander, head of a cable crew, said his team laid 4,000 feet of fiber optic cable to handle the technology requirements of the debate and to accommodate an expected 3,200 reporters, photo journalists, TV cameramen and technicians.
"We won't get to see much of the debate," said Alexander. "We'll be too busy monitoring the system."
Ronnie Ellis is a reporter with the CNHI News Service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.