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Close Race Puts Pressure On Biden-Ryan Debate


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. Debate number two of the fall presidential campaign takes place tonight in Danville, Kentucky. This one features the number two men on the Democratic and Republican party tickets, Vice President Joe Biden and GOP nominee Congressman Paul Ryan. The debate comes eight days after a meeting between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney.

And polls show that one has altered the race, narrowing what had been a growing lead for Mr. Obama in battleground states. Nationally, the race is very close. That puts added pressure on both Biden and Ryan to perform well tonight. And NPR's Don Gonyea is in Danville and joins us now. Don, tell us about the setting for this debate.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Well, Danville is a beautiful 45-minute drive south of Lexington. At one point, we passed a gas station that had one of those signs with the stick up letters out front and it said, welcome to the thrill in the ville, and it had a Roman numeral two after it. Now, the thrill in the ville one was the debate also here at Center College, same campus, back in 2000, Dick Cheney versus Joe Lieberman.

Robert, you may still have the t-shirt from that one. So anyway, people remember that one or if they don't, the set up will be the same. No lecterns. The two candidates will sit next to one another at a roundtable, actually a half round table, right across from the moderator and away they go.

SIEGEL: Now, last week's presidential debate was all about the economy and domestic issues. Does this vice presidential debate have any particular focus?

GONYEA: It is the only vice presidential debate, so everything is on the table, domestic and foreign. It will be somewhat loosely formatted, as was last week's presidential debate. There'll be nine topics, each will get roughly 10 minutes of discussion after initial responses from each candidate. You know, it'll be back and forth and hopefully that adds up to 90 minutes.

SIEGEL: Okay, Don. Let's talk about what the challenges there seem to be for each of the debaters tonight.

GONYEA: For Biden, there may be the higher bar, given that the president was, you know, lackluster and every poll showed him losing overwhelmingly in that first debate last week. Biden needs to stop that. For Ryan, he's still new to the national stage, this kind of national stage, anyway. He wants people to get to know him. He needs to show he's up to the job, but mostly he just needs to be a good spokesman for the Republican ticket.

SIEGEL: And now, on to the challenges facing the moderator. In last week's debate, the low key style of moderator Jim Lehrer became part of the story. Liberal blogs were very critical. In tonight's debate, Martha Raddatz of ABC News is the moderator and there's already criticism of her on some conservative Internet news sites. What's all that about?

GONYEA: Twenty-one years ago, at her wedding where she married her previous husband, Barack Obama, not president, not even an office-holder, was a guest. At the time, he was a recent graduate of the Harvard law school. Raddatz's husband was Julius Genachowski, who was actually the connection to Mr. Obama. He's currently head of the FCC.

Anyway, they were later divorced. I should say there is an NPR connection, Martha once worked for us. She's married to NPR's Tom Gjelten. The conservative website the Daily Caller has made an issue of the president's attendance at her wedding back in 1991, calling it a conflict of interest.

SIEGEL: Okay. Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Don Gonyea, speaking with us from Danville, Kentucky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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