By I-Hsien Sherwood ( | First Posted: Oct 08, 2012 03:29 PM EDT

Paul Ryan will face Joe Biden on Thursday, Oct. 11. (Photo : Reuters)

Barack Obama's poor performance in last week's first presidential debate places the burden of revitalizing the Democrats' flagging campaign on the shoulders of Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden will debate Paul Ryan in the first and only vice-presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky, this Thursday, Oct. 11.

While there are still two presidential debates to come, the next isn't until Oct. 16, and the Democrats are scrambling to overwrite public impressions of Obama's weak rebuttals and half-hearted defense of his first term against Mitt Romney's unexpectedly forceful and passionate attacks.

So the vice-presidential debate this week offers the earliest opportunity for a message overhaul.

While debates between vice-presidential candidates rarely affect election outcomes, they are a useful barometer of a campaign's worries. Voters don't choose a party based on the VP pick, so those candidates are able to speak more freely, sling mud, and stop worrying about alienating swing voters.

In 2008, Biden needed to tread carefully in his debate against Sarah Palin, to keep from appearing sexist or dismissive. This time around, he faces Paul Ryan, whose time on the House Budget Committee and bombastic speaking style, coupled with his iron adherence to small-government economic principles, make him a formidable but beatable opponent.

Biden is a knowledgeable and earnest speaker who is, nevertheless, prone to gaffes when talking extemporaneously. In a more structured environment like a debate, he is better able to rein in his unruly tongue.

Ryan, for his part, loves to throw out figures and facts, regardless of their mathematical veracity. He hasn't engaged in a debate since his first run for office, 14 years ago.

Both candidates are currently undergoing extensive debate prep and practice. The Democrats are particularly apprehensive, with David Axelrod, Obama's senior strategist, overseeing the efforts personally.

Both candidates are also talking each other up, in an effort to lower public expectations of their own performance prior to the debate.

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