WHITE HOUSE — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and the Republican vice presidential candidate, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, go head-to-head on Thursday in a debate that will be watched by millions of Americans and people around the world.
Democrat Joe Biden is a 40-year veteran politician, foreign affairs expert, advocate for the middle class, and one of President Barack Obama's closest advisers.
Paul Ryan is a 14-year veteran of the House of Representatives, who President Obama once described as the ideological leader of congressional Republicans. He is known for his mastery of budget details and proposals that would transform U.S. entitlement programs such as Medicare.
On the campaign trail, Biden has attacked Ryan and the man at the top of the Republican ticket, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Biden made these remarks earlier this year:
"There is nothing gutsy about giving another trillion dollars in tax breaks to millionaires. There is nothing bold about turning Medicare into a voucher system. There is nothing bold about kicking 19 million kids and elderly off of Medicaid with no place else to go," said Biden.
Ryan has played the same role for the Republican ticket. He says Americans have a choice between what he calls President Obama's failed leadership and the promise of a brighter future under Mitt Romney.
"Do we want to stay on a path that President Obama has placed us on? I take that as a no. It's a path that is putting us deeper in debt, further in doubt, and more in decline," said Ryan.
Political analysts say the stakes in Thursday's Ryan-Biden encounter are perhaps higher than in any other vice presidential debate in decades. That is because of President Obama's poor performance in last week's presidential debate.
Since then, the political map has tightened, with President Obama apparently suffering setbacks in key political swing states. A Pew Research Center survey gives Romney a four point lead among likely voters. Other polls put Obama in the lead.
Analyst Stephen Hess with the Brookings Institution says Biden's job in Thursday's debate comes down to being "a harder hitter" than the president was during his first debate with Romney.
"His [Biden's] supporters will expect him to have made arguments that they felt were missing in the president's presentation, which seemed to try to avoid the attacks on Mitt Romney's record that had been a very important part of their [Obama-Biden] campaign," said Hess.
Hess adds that Biden also needs to overcome his history of making verbal gaffes, and recognize Ryan's abilities as a policy tactician.
"He has to be aware of the tremendous interest in his opponent who has a reputation of being a considerable numbers man. That is why many people feel he got on the ticket in the first place because of his ability to put together a program," he said.
President Obama told a radio interviewer on Wednesday that he will "take it to" Mr. Romney in the weeks before the November 6 election, and said he was "too polite" in responding to Romney in the first debate.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to characterize what that means for Mr. Obama's performance in next week's second debate, but he said the president is determined contrast the differences between himself and Romney.
"He has been consistent from the day he started running for the presidency up to this moment about what his vision is, who he is fighting for, what his policies are, their specifics, and he will continue to be that way," said Carney.
Joe Biden and Paul Ryan were immersed in intense preparations for what will be the only vice presidential debate before Election Day.
Despite Biden's apparent effectiveness as a tough campaigner on economic issues, a Pew Research Center survey of adults and registered voters shows him as being viewed less favorably than Ryan.