With little more than 24 hours before the vice presidential debate, political experts say it's a true toss-up who will win, even after what many called a "lackluster" performance by President Barack Obama last week. It's not exactly a "Rumble in the Jungle," but the vice presidential debate Thursday does have the potential to be good theater.
Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan will face off against incumbent Vice President Joe Biden at 7 p.m. Thursday in Danville, KY. This is the second of four scheduled debates before the election and is the only debate between the vice-presidential hopefuls.
Across the country there's speculation that Biden will have to clean up the mess left behind by Obama's uneven performance during the first presidential debate, but election expert Michael Wagner from University of Wisconsin-Madison said it's routine for incumbents to "take it on the chin."
"It's important to remember that incumbents are thought to lose the first debate," he said. "The last few we’ve had, the other guy had a better day. John Kerry in 2004 had the better debate. In 1992, George W. Bush didn’t have as good of a debate as Bill Clinton. Incumbents usually take it on the chin a bit."
And historically, these debates really don't change votes all that much, Wagner said. In a 2008 Gallup poll, since the 1960 debate with President John F. Kennedy, actual voting numbers changed only slightly after the debates regardless of who won.
Young ideas vs. experience
While Biden is generally recognized for his years of experience, Ryan has been described as the young hope of the Republican Party. But Amber Wichowsky, an assistant professor of political science at Marquette University, said that Ryan's inexperience will put him in a defensive position for this debate.
"Overall, I expect that Biden will go more on the offensive to get Ryan to discuss specifics," Wichowsky said, particularly about Ryan's budget proposals, Mitt Romney's tax plan and the details on Medicaid and Medicare changes.
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In preparation, Ryan has been seen lugging two, thick briefing books as he travels the country studying and prepping himself to debate against a man who was "sparring over public policy since the Wisconsin congressman was learning how to talk," The Seattle Times reported.
Wichowsky also anticipates Biden will make note of the Friday jobs report that highlighted 24 months of steady job growth, with September showing an additional 114,000 jobs and a dip in unemployment to 7.8 percent.
But that isn't to say this will be an easy win for Biden.
'Clinging to guns and religion'
Biden has been known to be quite the gaffe machine. In August, he visited southern Virginia and to a mixed-race crowd, told voters Mitt Romney wanted to put them "back in chains." Just last month, Biden was seen cozying up to a biker babe in southern Ohio, maybe a little too close, as the two men with her look at each other questioningly. Very quickly, that photo went viral.
And while Ryan has had fewer faux pas come under media scrutiny, he isn't completely without a few mishaps of his own. NPR has a healthy debate surrounding Ryan's statement that his marathon time was under three hours, when actually, it was documented at more than four hours. But Ryan has intentionally revived some of Obama's old gaffes, most recently at a Pennsylvania steel plant according to The Hill:
"Remember this other time when he (Obama) said people want to cling to their guns and religion?" Ryan said. "Hey, I'm a Catholic deer hunter, I'm happy to be clinging to my guns and religion."
But even with the possible mishaps either candidate could mutter, Biden has debated on the national stage plenty of times before and holds years of experience on Ryan.
"Short of Biden criticizing President Obama," Wagner said, "or swearing, or saying something that is just fundamentally not true, it’s not very likely the debate will affect the results too much."