The future of the Obama campaign now depends on Joe Biden. (Photo : Reuters)
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And their only weapon in that fight is Joe Biden.
Biden--the gaffe-prone, teary-eyed, devoutly-religious, politically-shrewd operator known for either putting his foot in his mouth or bringing a crowd to its feet.
Before watching the debate, what do you need to know about Joe Biden?
He has working class roots. Biden will mention Scranton, Pa., a Rust Belt city, during the debate, probably more than once. He was born there, and considers it as much his home as Delaware, the state he represented in the Senate for 36 years.
His wife, Jill, is a community college professor, and Biden is a staunch supporter of public education, job retraining, and U.S. manufacturing. On the campaign trail he touts the president's record on the auto bailout.
He is also a vocal advocate for the Affordable Care Act, with personal experience of medical trauma. In 1988, Biden was treated for a brain aneurysm. In 1972, just a few weeks after he was first elected to the Senate, Biden's wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident while Christmas shopping, and both his sons were critically injured.
While Biden is considered gentle and empathic in person (in 2008 he stepped aside to talk to a young woman who also suffered from an aneurysm; a few minutes later they were both in tears), he can be a relentless attack dog.
As head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he penned a report blasting the record of Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan's pick for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. Largely on the strength of Biden's argument, Bork was rejected in a contentious hearing.
In his 2008 debate with Sarah Palin, Biden pulled his punches, not wanting to seem sexist or dismissive of his opponent, whom the public was just beginning to get to know.
In contrast, Paul Ryan is a 14-year congressman with a long record and a history of ideological positions. Biden has the capability to pick apart Ryan's record, though it remains to be seen whether he can do that without getting in his own way.
As the author of the Violence Against Women Act, Biden can press his advantage among women, particularly on domestic violence, abortion rights and women's health. He is the vice president for the country's first African American president, so Biden has an advantage among many minorities.
He accidentally prodded Obama into affirming his support for same-sex marriages, but as a Roman Catholic, like Ryan, Biden need not cede the religious vote to his Republican challenger.
This will be the first time two Catholics meet in a vice-presidential debate, and Biden will likely contrast his union-friendly, socially-liberal brand of faith to Ryan's fiscally-stringent creed, which, politically at least, closely resembles the policies of evangelical Christians who are more prominent in the Republican party.