DANVILLE, Kentucky (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden and the man who wants to succeed him, Republican Paul Ryan, face off Thursday in a debate that gained new importance in the race for the White House after President Barack Obama flubbed last week's confrontation against Mitt Romney.
The stakes aren't generally this high in vice presidential debates. But this one offers Biden an opportunity to undo some of the damage from Obama's lackluster performance and restore energy to the Democratic campaign less than a month before the Nov. 6 election. Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin who is a generation younger than his opponent, will try to hold on to the Republicans' sudden rise in the polls.
Last week's presidential debate erased Obama's advantage and boosted Romney nationally and — more importantly — in such battleground states as Ohio. That is especially relevant as the U.S. president is not elected by the nationwide popular vote, but in a series of state-by-state contests.
About 41 states are seen as essentially already decided for Romney or Obama, leaving nine up for grabs, including Ohio. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying that state.
The two candidates for vice president offer a striking contrast. Biden, at 69, is a former chairman of the Senate of Foreign Relations Committee and a skilled debater. His last such debate was four years ago, against then-Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. But he also is prone to gaffes, though these tend to happen more when he is speaking off-the-cuff.
Ryan, 42, has suggested his youth will help him connect with voters, but he has a tendency to get deep into policy details and could lose the audience's attention. He will likely have to fend off attacks on the conservative fiscal policies he has promoted as chairman of the House Budget Committee. He also must follow in the footsteps of the less conservative Romney and take a more moderate tone than in the past, as the Republican challenger tries to attract independent and undecided voters.
Unlike Biden, Ryan is not a foreign policy expert but will be required to stand his ground in territory that is more familiar to the veteran senator.
Obama planned to watch the start of the debate aboard Air Force One following an evening fundraiser in Miami. Aides said the president called Biden on the way to Florida to wish him good luck.
The slow economy has been the dominant issue of the U.S. election, and Ryan is expected to make a detailed case against Obama's fiscal and economic policies leading to a growing national debt. In turn, the pressure is on for Biden to go where Obama did not, including Romney's opposition to the successful auto industry bailout, and his videotaped comment in which he was heard saying that 47 percent of Americans view themselves as victims who depend on the government and refuse to take responsibility for their lives.
The 90-minute debate — the only vice presidential one, — is being moderated by Martha Raddatz, senior foreign affairs correspondent for ABC News, and will cover both domestic and foreign policy. There's no shortage of material to discuss.
New unemployment figures released last week showed a drop in joblessness, in good news for Obama and Biden. But Americans are worried and upset by the slow recovery. Obama's administration also has been placed on the defensive recently by conflicting accounts about the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last month.
The debate also comes just two days after Romney said he would not pursue any abortion-related legislation if elected president. He later said he opposed abortion and his campaign said he would support legislation to provide greater protection to life.
Romney and Obama meet again Tuesday for a town hall-style debate in Hempstead, New York. Their third and last debate is scheduled Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Florida.