Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are set to debate this evening in Danville, Kentucky just four weeks before Election Day.
While most people will likely be paying attention to the men at the top of each party's ticket on November 6, President Barack Obama's performance in his first debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney left Democrats scrambling for any opportunity to gain ground. Polls now show Romney, who had been trailing Obama among likely voters, has pulled even with Obama after a torrent of positive debate-performance reviews.
That's added pressure for both candidates to make a great impression with the millions of people expected to tune in tonight. Not to mention being number two on the ticket is tricky. Biden and Ryan will have to do well enough in their own right to convince voters they're up to the job of being, or continuing to be, vice president, while at the same time using the debate as an opportunity to point out why their respective running mate is the right man for the job of commander-in-chief.
Here is what each candidate needs to do to win the debate.
1. He needs to paint a picture of Obama as capable and worth reelecting. Usually gregarious and full of energy, Obama's first debate against Romney left many Democrats worried and Republicans gleeful. Biden has his work cut out for him, but he did excel at portraying Obama as a likable leader at last month's Democratic National Convention.
"I want to take you inside the White House to see the President, as I see him every day," he said in his convention speech. "Because I don't see him in sound bites. I walk down the hall, 30 steps to the Oval Office, and I see him in action."
Ultimately, Biden needs to do what he does best: connect with real voters. And he needs to show that, despite a lackluster debate performance, Obama is capable of doing the same.
2. He needs to play hardball, while avoiding gaffes. Biden is genial and likable, and that's a good thing, but he's also been known to make his advisers cringe. Anyone remember him mourning the Irish Prime Minister's mother even though she was alive? Time has a handy wrap-up of gaffes if you need a reminder. Biden needs to be careful about what he says, but he also needs to debate numbers and specifics with Ryan, a self-proclaimed numbers guy. Obama received criticism for not throwing many punches during the first debate, and some of that pressure has now fallen to Biden as the Democrats struggle to regain lost ground.
3. He needs to tout his record as vice president. So much of the attention is rightly focused on Obama and Romney, but Biden (and Ryan) will need to convince people that he is trustworthy and capable of being second-in-line to the presidency. Biden should talk about his role in bringing the war in Iraq to an end, for example, or his trips to Asia to meet with world leaders. Ryan does not have as much foreign policy experience, and emphasizing his international successes may help Biden.
1.He needs to talk about numbers and fiscal policy in a way that people understand. He's comfortable talking about the budget, but Ryan needs to avoid wading so far into the weeds that he sounds wonky and distant. He would do well to distill for voters, say, what exactly the fiscal cliff is, why it matters, and what he and Romney would do to prevent a catastrophe.
2. He needs to appeal to the middle. Both the middle class and middle America. His running mate is often accused of caring more about the rich than 'regular folks,' and Ryan needs to counter that by playing up his Midwestern, 'every man' roots. The born-and-bred Wisconscinite must convince people that he, but more importantly his running mate, cares about middle-class Americans by talking about issues important to them -- everything from job creation to education. He needs to convince voters that Obama's policies are not working for the middle class and that, once again, change is a good thing.
3.He needs to introduce himself. It sounds basic and he did this when Romney announced him as his running mate a little bit, but many people still aren't completely sure who Paul Ryan is. While the internet was swirling with stories of his P90X workouts, Ryan needs to tell people about things like his background, his wife, and his kids. Likability matters and people relate to stories about being a husband, a father and a son. He should also tie in Romney's devotion to his family.