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Parties gear up for sole vice presidential debate

WASHINGTON -- Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will take part in their only debate of the 2012 campaign Thursday with challenger Mitt Romney's camp looking to build on his newfound momentum, and President Barack Obama's side hoping to stop his slide following a lackluster performance at last week's debate.

The debate in Kentucky comes at a volatile moment in the election, putting the contrasting political skills of Biden and Ryan on display for millions of viewers less than four weeks before Election Day.

Vice presidential encounters rarely make a significant difference in a White House campaign, but aides engage in the same sort of attempt to shape public expectations as when the men at the top of the ticket are ready to face off.

So, while it's tempting to cast the vice presidential debate as a pivotal event, the encounter is more likely to set a tone and a foundation for Tuesday's town hall style debate between Obama and Romney in Hempstead, New York. Still, if Biden or Ryan emerge as a clear winner, it could either help correct the bad story line Obama provoked by his debate performance last week in Denver or strengthen Romney's image as a surging challenger.

Public opinion polls suggested the impact of last week's presidential debate was to wipe out most, if not all, of the gains Obama made following both parties' national conventions and the emergence in late summer of a videotape in which Romney spoke dismissively of the 47 percent of Americans whom he said pay no income taxes, feel like victims and don't take personal responsibility for their lives.

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Workers carry chairs through the media center ahead of Thursday's vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, Wednesday, Oct. 10. Republican vice presidential ...

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