Senior Democrats are predicting a scrappy competitive debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan when they meet onstage in Kentucky Thursday. But both men are collegial people so don't expect a fight club atmosphere.
With polls tightening and new pressure to energize Democrats after last week's presidential debate, Biden has been off the campaign trail for six days hunkered down in debate prep since the weekend.
He's been working out of the same hotel in Wilmington, Delaware that housed his 2008 prep. Each day since Sunday he held a full 90 minute mock debate plus additional work sessions, all run by debate expert and former Biden chief of staff Ron Klain. The vice president's current chief of staff, Bruce Reed, was also present.
Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen played the role of Paul Ryan; he knows Ryan from their work together on the House Budget Committee. Biden communications director Shaliagh Murray played the role of moderator Martha Raddatz, according to senior Democratic officials.
Former Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman, several members of the Biden family and other aides were also on hand. Biden, who served in Congress for over three decades, prepared to cover topics from Supreme Court cases to varying aspects of domestic and foreign policy, according to sources.
Members of the president's debate prep team joined the group in Delaware, including senior advisers David Axelrod, David Plouffe and communications guru Anita Dunn. But they were gone on Wednesday and turned up at the White House, along with Ron Klain, presumably to continue the president's preparations for his debate Tuesday.
In an interview with ABC News Wednesday, President Obama said of tonight's debate, "Joe just needs to be Joe".
Within the Obama team the vice president is seen as an effective communicator, skilled at making an emotional connection with voters, but unpredictable because of his tendency to commit newsmaking gaffes.
CNN polling shows 55% of voters expect Ryan to win the debate and some in the Democratic camp believe these low expectations work to the vice president's advantage.
Privately, senior Democrats tell CNN they believe while a strong showing by the vice president can help the ticket, it won't erase the problems created by the president's low energy showing at the last debate.
Among Biden's goals heading into Thursday's face-off with Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan are to sell the Democratic ticket's policies in a clear way and translate wonk-talk into real life terms that have meaning for voters.
It's also clear from the Democrats' messaging ahead of the debate, he is likely to try to draw out Ryan on the differences between his own budget proposal and Romney's plan for a second term, press Ryan to get into specifics on proposed changes to Medicare, and - in the wake of Romney's newsmaking comments on abortion - perhaps press him on social issues and the differences between his own views and the top of the ticket.