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Three things to watch for in tonight’s vice-presidential debate

Technicians put finishing touches on the stage at Centre College prior to the vice-presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky October 10, 2012. U.S. vice presidential debates usually don't matter much, but the October 11 showdown held in the small town between Democratic incumbent Joe Biden and Republican challenger Paul Ryan could be an exception.

Matt Sullivan/Reuters

It's normally a dull debate that flies under the radar. But Thursday's vice-presidential faceoff is being billed as a much-needed pivot point for the Democrats after President Barack Obama's lacklustre performance last week.

In what some have dubbed the "Thrill in the 'Ville," Vice President Joe Biden meets Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan in Danville, Ky., Thursday at 9 p.m. EST.

Will it be thrilling? Likely not. But here's what strategists, observers and pundits are watching for:

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A scrappy Biden

After Mr. Obama's widely panned first debate performance, the pressure is on Mr. Biden to give the Democrats some badly needed momentum. And given all the opportunities Mr. Obama didn't take to attack Republican Mitt Romney – even Mr. Obama has now said he was "too polite" at last week's debate – observers expect Mr. Biden to be confrontational.

"Obama's Denver dud, and specifically his refusal to go after Mitt Romney on some of the GOP nominee's most glaring vulnerabilities, has officials in both parties anticipating an aggressive, hard-hitting Biden showing up to try to put Democrats back on the offensive," according to Politico.

An interesting Ryan

Mr. Ryan is well known as a policy wonk, so his challenge is to leave the numbers aside and stick to the big picture in order to appeal to middle America.

"There's no doubt that the brunt of Ryan's debate prep has focused on talking less like the chairman of the House Budget Committee and more like an average person, but the Wisconsin congressman is a hard-wired policy nerd. Subsuming that part of his personality will be a major challenge," The Washington Post says.


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The big flubs are why we watch, right? Given his track record, political watchers view Mr. Biden as the safest bet to deliver in this category. In his most recent example, Mr. Biden last week described the middle class as having "been buried the last four years," which the Republicans seized upon as an indictment of the Obama administration.

"The popular conventional wisdom holds that it's Biden that should be kept on a leash, because, after all, he is Gaffe Gafferson, the mayor of Gaffe Town, where they manufacture gaffer tape, right?" The Huffington Post notes.

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