Joe Biden vs. Paul Ryan: The most important VP debate ever?

Mitt Romney's big win over President Obama last week has really raised the stakes for Thursday's showdown between their running mates

Vice President Joe Biden faces Rep Paul Ryan in debate on Oct. 11.
(Image credit: Alex Wong, Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Obama campaign is struggling to regain its footing after the president's lackluster performance in last week's debate. With Mitt Romney enjoying a bounce in the polls following his big win, Team Obama is counting on Vice President Joe Biden to regain the momentum in his Thursday debate against Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan. Biden has nearly four decades of Washington experience under his belt, but he's still hunkering down in a three-day debate camp, studying Ryan's record and practicing attack lines Obama didn't use. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is trying to lower expectations for Ryan, insisting that Biden is a formidable debater, and Ryan himself says he expects the vice president to hit him "like a cannon ball." Normally, debates between VP candidates don't amount to much in the election-year calculus, but is this showdown shaping up to be more important than those in years past?

Yes. This VP debate is critical: Vice-presidential debates usually don't matter, says Jonathan Martin at Politico. This time, though, thanks to "Obama's Denver dud," the Democrats need Biden to hit issues the president failed to raise, such as Romney's "47 percent" comment and opposition to the auto bailout. Also, because of Ryan's Medicare reform plan, this is "a rare presidential year" in which a No. 2 pick's policies are a hot issue. In the end, this could be one of the most significant veep showdowns ever.

"A veep debate that could really matter"

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No. It likely won't make a difference: This face-off is "unlikely to move the race an inch in any direction," Republican strategist Scott Paterno tells Politico. Face-offs between the presidential nominees' sidekicks "can be informative (2000), entertaining (1992), or painful (2008). One thing they have never been is game changing." Of course, anything could happen — after all, a catastrophically huge Biden gaffe or a Ryan implosion on Medicare might alter the race — but it would buck a 200-year trend.

"Could Biden hit Ryan too hard?"

The debate obviously matters. But how much? Time will tell: Obama's "wipeout will increase interest" in what would otherwise have been a sideshow, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. And Biden, a two-time presidential candidate himself, "should never be underestimated." Still, there is no Republican better at defending the facts and figures" than House budget guru Paul Ryan. If Ryan can ignore Biden and continue Romney's assault on Obama's record, "the GOP ticket may be able to lock in some of its new supporters."

"What the debate did"

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