By Justin Sink - 10/11/12 08:23 PM EDT
Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan head into Thursday's vice presidential debate with the weight of their running mate's campaigns resting on their shoulders.
For Biden, the meeting is an opportunity to course-correct after President Obama's disappointing debate performance just over a week ago, while for Ryan, another consensus win could give the GOP ticket unstoppable momentum heading into Election Day.
Both campaigns are promising that the 90-minute sparring session in Danville, Ky., will feature an aggressive and lively discussion over competing visions for the future.
"The vice president will speak directly to the American people about the progress we've made over the last four years and a concrete Obama-Biden plan to continue creating an economy that works for the middle class. And Joe Biden, as he always does, will speak the truth," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina during a conference call Thursday.
Messina said Romney was "cynically and dishonestly hiding his real positions," but that Biden would point out that "there's no hiding when you're president."
Ryan, meanwhile, has said that he's ready for Biden to come at him like a "cannonball."
"Because they had such a bad debate, Joe Biden is just going to come flying at us," Ryan told WJR radio in Detroit. "It seems pretty clear that their new strategy is just to call us liars, to descend into a mud pit."
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in an email Thursday that the pressure was on the vice president to have a good performance.
"As we head into the Vice Presidential debate tonight, Joe Biden will have to work to right the ship as new polls show the race is tightening across key battlegrounds," Kukowski said.
Ryan has been studiously preparing for his first national debate. The Wisconsin lawmaker spent three and a half days last week in Virginia exclusively focused on debate prep, and spent another two days this week doing practice rounds in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Campaign aides say he also met sporadically in previous weeks with former Solicitor General Ted Olson, who is serving as Biden’s stand-in.
The Obama campaign, meanwhile, distributed photos of Biden practicing against Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on a set built to exactly replicate the actual stage at Centre College.
The 90-minute contest will cover both foreign and domestic topics and be divided into nine 10-minute segments. The candidates, seated at a desk, will each be given two minutes to respond to every question, with a broader discussion then opening up on each topic.
Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said Thursday that because of the seated format, she predicted the contest would be "a little bit more of a conversation."
It's a conversation that many Americans expect Ryan to win. In a New York Times/CBS News poll released Thursday morning, voters in Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin all said they expected Ryan to emerge victorious. In Colorado and Wisconsin, Ryan was favored by double-digit margins.
Those numbers come as Romney and Ryan continue to surge in swing state polls. The same survey from the Times showed the race tightening in Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin, while a separate set of polls from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal showed Romney gaining in Ohio, Florida and Virginia.
On Thursday, Obama campaign traveling press secretary Jen Psaki looked to frame the polls as a confidence-builder ahead of the debate.
"What’s interesting here is that in the swing states, the seven to nine states where this campaign is being not only debated but will be decided, the race has been relatively stable," Psaki said. "And that’s in part because we spent time this summer laying out for the American people what the president would do with another four years; the difference between his platform and the Republican platform. And we feel, as I’ve said before, very confident in our ground game."
ABC News foreign correspondent Martha Raddatz will moderate the contest, and is likely to ask serious questions about ongoing events in the Middle East — including the evolving explanation of the terrorist attack on an U.S. instillation in Benghazi that left four Americans dead.
Foreign policy had been considered a strength for Biden, the longtime chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but questions on the administration's handling of the attack could give Ryan the upper hand.
The Republican candidate was likely aided by the fact that Cutter said Thursday that the "entire reason" the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi had become a political topic was "because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan" — a controversial statement immediately highlighted by the Romney campaign.
Similarly, Democrats believe they can score points on Ryan's traditional strength — the Republican tax and budget plans. The Obama campaign believes Ryan has stumbled to explain his budget under tough questioning on the campaign trail, and reconciled some of his more controversial budget proposals with the plan advocated by his running mate.
"The question is, which Paul Ryan will show up this evening?" Psaki said. "Will it be the Paul Ryan who's been called the intellectual leader of the Tea Party, of the right wing of the Republican Party, who's embraced voucherizing Medicare, who's embraced a $5-trillion tax cut package that would give benefits to millionaires and billionaires, and leave the burden on the middle class, or is it the Paul Ryan who made fact-checkers work overtime during his convention speech?"
But Romney predicted in an interview with CNN that his running mate would "do fine."
"Frankly, he has policy, facts and results on his side," Romney said. "So I think you find in the analysis people make the assessment on these debates not so much on the theatrics or smoothness of the presenter, but the policies and pathways being described.”
Obama, who called Biden on Thursday afternoon to wish him well, offered a similar vote of confidence in an interview with ABC News.
"Joe just needs to be Joe," the president said. "Congressman Ryan is a smart effective speaker, but his ideas are the wrong ones."