Here's a real novelty for a vice presidential debate: It may actually matter!
The conventional wisdom is that vice presidential debates are hardly deal breakers in presidential races. Voters usually want to hear from the real guys, the ones who may end up running the country; not the subs-in-chief.
But the upcoming showdown on Thursday between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan may be a different animal. We're getting strong hints that the stakes are unusually high ahead of the pair's matchup at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.
The Obama campaign is under the gun to compensate for the commander-in-chief's flub in the Denver debate last week. Many people indicate they expect Biden to come out swinging at Ryan.
"A lot of people will be tuning in to see how Vice President Biden tries to make up for the president's belly flop last week," CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin on CNN's "State of the Union."
Ryan himself said he expects Biden to strike him like a "cannon ball."
"Because Mitt Romney did such a good job of giving the country a choice, they don't have a choice but to have Joe Biden come at me," Ryan said in an interview to Milwaukee radio station WTMJ.
The Obama campaign privately seems to agree. A number of advisers and surrogates indicated that the campaign would make "adjustments" after Denver and that it will use Biden to try to regain the lost ground. Not that Biden is stranger to the attack dog role. After all, part of a VP's job is to be the bad cop.
But the problem for the Obama camp is that Biden is known as another type of cannon: a loose one! He's made so many gaffes in public appearances in the past that he's often described as a "gaffe machine," a one-man verbal accident waiting to happen.
Case in point: Calling then-candidate Obama in 2008 "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy"; or saying there are so many Indian-Americans in Delaware that "you can't go to 7-eleven or Dunkin Donuts without a slight Indian accent"; or uttering the f-bomb during the health care law-signing ceremony without realizing the microphone was hot -- and so on.
What if THIS Biden pops up during the debate? If you ask Republicans, they are not betting on it.
"He's a very disciplined person when he speaks in these kinds of situations. He doesn't produce gaffes in these moments," Ryan told Fox News last week.
On the other hand, the Obama team is pointing out Biden's long track record in debates. He debated democratic opponents during his 2008 presidential run and faced Sarah Palin in their VP debate four years ago.
"Vice President Biden is used to this. He's been in public life a long time and he's used to debates. Look, I think he just has to go out there and prosecute the same case the president was prosecuting," Obama campaign senior adviser Robert Gibbs told CNN.
The Obama camp is suggesting Biden will pick the attack lines that the president didn't. "They'll read the (Denver) transcript very, very carefully to look for lost opportunities," one democratic insider told Politico.com. "They'll have the list of missed opportunities."
Politico says some of those opportunities may include Medicare and Social Security, two areas where Ryan may be vulnerable. Ryan supported partly turning Medicare into a voucher program and privatizing parts of Social Security.
With little time left, both candidates are doing last-minute preps.
Ryan has been sequestered at Wintergreen Resort near Charlottesville, Virginia, practicing with GOP lawyer Ted Olson, according to Politico. Olsen is reportedly so much into this role that he even imitates Biden's manners and speaking techniques during preps with Ryan.
Biden reportedly practiced last month with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) and the two will have more practice rounds this week in Delaware.
Recent polls indicate the race is tightening after Obama's blunder last week. That means it's showtime for the No. 2s.