by David Jackson, USA TODAY
Bring on the veeps!
Vice President Biden and Republican Paul Ryan get their turn in the spotlight Thursday night, debating the issues in a 90-minute session at Centre College in Danville, Ky.
Their meeting comes eight days after the first of three presidential debates between President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, a contest that most observers awarded to Romney. Those two meet again next Tuesday and again on Oct. 22.
USA TODAY will have full coverage on all platforms of this first and only vice presidential debate. Martha Raddatz of ABC News will moderate starting at 9 p.m. ET.
As you watch, here are five things to keep an eye on:
Rescuing President Obama. The Obama team is looking to Biden to help the campaign recover from the president's performance last week. Expect Biden at times to bypass Ryan and attack Romney on items that went unmentioned in that opening debate, including the GOP candidate's business experience and his comment about "the 47%" who either receive government assistance or don't pay taxes.
The Ryan budget. Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee and architect of a budget plan that is likely to be a major topic Thursday night. Biden will probably press Ryan on GOP proposals for major tax cuts and budget cuts, especially their plans to revamp Medicare. Ryan, meanwhile, will critique Obama's stewardship of the economy.
Joe Biden, gaffe machine? The vice president sometimes employs a colorful mode of expression that gets him in trouble, such as his recent comment that Republican economic policies would put people "in chains." Republican surrogates will be on major gaffe patrol.
Paul Ryan, too young for prime time? The Republican vice presidential candidate is only 42 years old, one of the youngest national nominees in history. Representing a congressional district in Wisconsin, Ryan has never run statewide, and never been on a debate stage this size. Democratic surrogates will be searching for signs of inexperience, especially when it comes to foreign affairs. The contrast between Ryan and the 69-year-old Biden should also be interesting.
Attack dog politics. Running mates are traditionally the more aggressive candidates in presidential campaigns, and this debate should prove that point once again. Biden and Ryan will spend more time talking about Obama and Romney than about each other.
If anything, vice presidential debates generate more memorable moments than their presidential counterparts -- whether it's Lloyd Bentsen telling Dan Quayle in 1988, "You're no Jack Kennedy;" or Sarah Palin telling Biden four years ago, "Say it ain't so, Joe." Don't be surprised to see rhetorical fireworks, especially in a debate not limited by topic -- all issues are fair game.