Biden vs. Ryan

Thursday’s debate between Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanStudents arrested protesting gun violence outside Paul Ryan’s office Parkland father calls out Trump, McConnell, Ryan after Santa Fe shooting GOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan MORE (R-Wis.) is an intriguing clash.

Biden is under pressure to claw back ground lost by President Obama’s lackluster performance in his encounter last week with Mitt Romney.

The vice president is gaffe-prone, but he is an experienced debater. He ran for president in 1988 and 2008 and debated Sarah Palin four years ago. He also served six terms in the Senate, debating his colleagues on a slew of domestic and foreign-policy issues. Biden is folksy and comfortable in his own skin.

Ryan is no stranger to the political spotlight, though he’s never been under this kind of microscope. The Wisconsin lawmaker, who is 27 years younger than the vice president, is a policy wonk.

The Budget Committee chairman is on his home turf with the biggest issues of the day: taxes, the role of government, entitlement reform and jobs.

He has debated all those issues on the House floor with Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who is helping Biden prepare for the debate.

But Ryan is not as adept on foreign-policy matters. Biden, meanwhile, formerly headed the Foreign Relations Committee.

The debate represents much of the clash of the 112th Congress: the Obama administration vs. the Tea Party. Ryan’s budget has been at the center of the fight between the two opposing factions, and that conflict will be front and center on Thursday night.

It is hard to say who is the favorite, as both men have clear strengths and weaknesses. Could it be a one-sided affair? It is possible, though unlikely.

Thursday’s debate, if history is any guide, will not significantly influence the Nov. 6 election. Vice presidential debates are usually entertaining, though voters don’t think about them when choosing their presidential ticket.

Next week’s second presidential debate on Long Island could swing the election, however. Voters will be looking to see how Obama reacts after the most disappointing debate performance of his life.

They will also be looking to see if Romney will continue taking the fight to the incumbent president, and whether the president will counterattack more effectively.

The bottom line is that with less than a month to go, the presidential race is a toss-up — and one week ago, you couldn’t say that.