Biden, Ryan Set To Square Off In Vice-Presidential Debate

He’s a gifted orator with a lengthy track record in the U.S. Senate, but it has been Vice President Joe Biden’s many gaffes that have drawn the attention of the most casual political observers.

He will need to minimize those mistakes while contrasting himself with Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan when the two debate tonight in Danville, Kentucky.

Biden’s performance could play a factor in whether he and President Barack Obama can stem the momentum enjoyed by Ryan and GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney following last week’s first presidential debate. Obama endured an admittedly poor night to give the Romney campaign new life and make the race extremely tight as the Nov. 6 Election Day nears.

“This has turned into a legitimate high-stakes debate because the ground has shifted so profoundly on the Democrats,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

“Biden at least has to hold his own so panic doesn’t set in for Democrats,” he said. “They don’t want to lose two in a row.”

Romney and Republicans have been on a roll since last week’s first debate, which came just as Obama appeared to be taking command of the race. A Reuters/Ipsos online poll on Wednesday showed Romney taking his first lead over Obama in more than a month, 45 percent to 44 percent.

It was one of several national polls showing the debate helped Romney significantly improve his personal image and his standing on key issues like handling the economy, as well as bolster his standing in key swing states that will decide the election.

Democrats have accused Romney of shifting or misrepresenting his positions on issues during and after the debate. Biden is expected to be more confrontational than Obama in an encounter that will include both domestic and foreign policy issues.

“He’s going to have to be on his toes,” Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said of Biden on MSBNC.

“My guess is you’re going to see what Mitt Romney tried to do, which is Paul Ryan … walk away from the positions that he’s held during this campaign and give a much, much different, softer image for the American people,” he said.

Democrats accused Romney of shifting positions again on Tuesday when he told the Des Moines Register that he was “not familiar with” any specific legislation targeting abortion that he would pursue. They said he was trying to soften his opposition to abortion rights to appeal to women. Romney has denied the charge.

Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees, has much more experience on the national stage than Ryan, a 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman and chairman of the House Budget Committee.

He was a strong performer in the Democratic primary debates during his failed 2008 run for the White House and fared well against Republican Sarah Palin in the 2008 vice-presidential debate.

But he also has a tendency for gaffes, most recently his remark that the middle class has been “buried for the last four years” – the span of Obama’s presidency – by a bad economy.

Obama, in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, said he was not worried about Biden.

“I think Joe just needs to be Joe,” the president said. “Congressman Ryan is a smart and effective speaker. But his ideas are the wrong ones and Joe understands that.”

Ryan’s budget plan has made him a hit with conservatives, but is likely to an early Biden target.

Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen has played Ryan in mock debates, while Ryan has been prepped by former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson.

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