It may not star the major players, but tonight’s showdown between Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger, Paul Ryan, could be unusually important. In fact, it may set the stage for the final weeks of the 2012 presidential election.

Mitt Romney’s widely lauded performance during the first presidential debate in Denver has resulted in a polling jump that, so far, has held up. For the first time since becoming the Republican nominee, Romney is actually beating President Barack Obama in some national polls, changing the general narrative of the campaign from one where the president was all but guaranteed to win in November to one where even some Democrats are questioning whether Obama has the kind of unwavering leadership necessary to keep the White House for a second term.

If Ryan, like Romney, is declared the undeniable winner tonight, that narrative will continue for at least another week. Waves of stories will report that the Democratic ticket, once again, failed to live up to the expectations of their base -- at least, until Obama and Romney meet again next Tuesday.

According to an exclusive interview with CNN, Ryan has been meticulously preparing for the vice presidential debate. For weeks, he reportedly has been carrying around a well-worn briefcase with 40 pounds worth of paperwork for study. Campaign aides say Ryan has role-played at least a half-dozen mock debates in an effort to anticipate -- and deflect -- Biden’s arguments.

Biden, meanwhile, has reportedly been in debate prep in Wilmington, Del., since Sunday, perfecting his language and fact-checking his arguments to ensure that he’s ready to face the notoriously well-prepared Ryan.

“I don’t want to say anything in the debate that’s not completely accurate,” Biden told reporters last week, according to ABC News.

Tonight’s debate will begin at 9 p.m. EDT and is being held in Danville, Ky. This page will be constantly updated as a live blog of the event.