Vice presidential debates rarely matter as much as their presidential counterparts, but Thursday's showdown between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan could prove an exception. Tens of millions of voters will tune in to watch both men make the case that their ticket is the right one for America, while trying to live up to a host of other expectations.
Here are the stakes for this year's vice presidential showdown:
Battle for Momentum. President Obama's disastrous debate performance last week shifted momentum toward Mitt Romney, arguably for the first time since he became the Republican nominee. Pre-debate polls that had the president holding a comfortable edge, both nationally and in critical swing-states, now show the race is once again nearly deadlocked.
Some surveys, such as Gallup, have indicated the Romney surge has faded a bit in recent days, but his dominating performance nonetheless heightens interest in the undercard matchup. Another strong turn by a Republican could cement the notion that Romney and Ryan are peaking in the critical last month of the race. But a quality 90 minutes from Biden could bolster the sense that the troubles of the Obama-Biden ticket are only temporary.
Ryan's Return. Conservatives have salivated at the prospect of Ryan, their favorite son, debating Biden from the moment the Wisconsin congressman was tapped as Romney's No. 2. The thinking was that the wonkish Republican would easily disassemble any argument from a vice president many of the GOP faithful regard as a lightweight.