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If tonight's vice-presidential (VP) debate were a boxing match it would be expected to go all 12 rounds.
Squaring off at 9 p.m. EDT in Danville, Kentucky are Vice-President Joe Biden and vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, in their first and only debate.
After the shellacking Mitt Romney gave President Obama in the first presidential debate many political experts are expecting Biden to come out on the offensive in an attempt to regain some of the president's lost ground.
Paul Ryan, in his first national debate, knows that Biden is looking to attack where the president did not. As the Chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan should be ready to defend his running mate and continue the attack on the president. Expect Ryan to focus on the economy, specifically federal debt, unemployment and job creation.
"I'd be surprised if there weren't far more fireworks in this debate than there were in the first presidential debate," University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer told Reuters.
While the debate will focus on domestic and foreign policies, here are other things you should watch for.
Tonight's VP Debate: Ryan vs. Biden
- Paul Ryan's Debate Debut- The country has not seen Paul Ryan on the national stage since speaking at the Republican National Convention and tonight will be the biggest political moment of his life. Prior to tonight, Ryan has only participated in small debates when he first ran for his congressional seat in Wisconsin 14 years ago. But Ryan has been preparing all week and is ready to fight Biden's expected onslaught with "zingers" of his own.
- Which Biden Will We See?- Joe Biden has been known to produce sound bites that make Democrats cringe and Republicans grin triumphantly. Yet, he has spent 36 years in the Senate and this is his 23rd national debate, so he has the edge in experience.
Democrats are hoping that Biden can demand more details from Ryan on his and Romney's agenda. Specifically, they'll want to know how will the challengers be able to cut taxes and balance the budget; what is the future of Social Security and Medicare under Ryan's plan; and what will their foreign policy resemble.
Look for Biden to attack on issues that President Obama didn't such as Romney's 47% comment, Bain Capital, Romney's choice to "let Detroit go bankrupt" and women's issues.
"Biden needs to play offense, not defense," Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who is a senior adviser for a pro-Obama super PAC told CNN. "Attack the Romney-Ryan plan to cut taxes for the rich and raise them on the middle class. Dissect the Romney-Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it. Point out that if Romney had been president, Osama bin Laden would be alive and GM would be dead. And be prepared to body-slam Ryan when — not if — he fibs."
- Age Gap and Religion– Joe Biden, 69, has the option if he chooses to go after Paul Ryan, 42, on his lack of experience. We might see a statement similar to former President Ronald Reagan's witty remark, "I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience," referring to his opponent Walter Mondale in a 1984 debate.
Ryan can combat those attacks if he performs comfortably and proves he has mastered thorough knowledge of the issues.
Even though both men are Catholics they have contrasting ideals. (Side note: this is the first time a national political debate has featured two Catholics.) Biden is pro-choice, pro-gay marriage while Ryan is pro-life, anti-gay marriage. It also will be interesting to see how each candidate talks to and engages women voters based on their religious differences.
"I expect the vice president to come at me like a cannonball," Ryan told reporters earlier this week. "He'll be in full attack mode, and I don't think he'll let any inconvenient facts get in his way."
Ryan will have to defend not only his own policies, such as Medicare, but support Romney's claims to create 12 million jobs and elaborate on how the rich will not see a tax cut under Romney's plan. In what could be difficult, Ryan might have to address the differences between his plans on Medicare and tax reform compared to Romney's. Ryan, who is regarded as a conservative leader on federal spending and tax policy, needs to appeal to voters on an emotional level and not just at a fiscal level. If he is able to convey his message in a manner that avoids detailed quantitative analysis he will have done his job.
Just as important, Ryan must appear as if he could be commander-in-chief and present his arguments authoritatively.
"It will come down to his competency on the issues, his command of the issues," a Romney campaign official told CNN.
For Biden the debate is a chance to stop or at least slow down the momentum Romney picked up from the first debate. For Ryan this is the moment to build on that momentum and give Romney the edge going in to the final three weeks of the campaign. Following the surprising first presidential debate and with polls practically tied, tonight's VP debate certainly takes on more importance than those in past years.
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Five things to watch in the U.S. vice presidential debate
Five things to watch for in vice presidential debate