Vice president Joe Biden and his Republican challenger Paul Ryan have, obviously, very different political beliefs. They also have different ways of preparing for Thursday’s vice presidential debate, the only one in the 2012 election cycle where viewers will have on opportunity to see a face-off between the two men vying for a position only a heartbeat away from the world's most powerful job.
Ryan, who gave an exclusive interview to CNN detailing his debate prep, has been meticulously preparing for his showdown with Biden for weeks. The Wisconsin congressman has reportedly been hauling around about 40 pounds' worth of paperwork in a well-worn brown briefcase, taking every opportunity to study Biden’s Senate votes and policy positions.
The GOP vice presidential candidate compared his debate preparation technique to the way he prepares for archery and bow hunting.
“I like the strategy of bow hunting and it takes a lot of preparation, and I do take it seriously because I am much more successful if I do things properly and prepare the right way," Ryan told CNN. “I have always just believed that if you're going to do something, do it well."
In addition to a voracious amount of reading and briefings, Ryan has already role-played in at least half a dozen 90-minute mock debates, with former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey standing in as moderator Martha Raddatz. Ted Olson, the former solicitor general, has taken on the role of Biden.
Ryan said Olson has “immersed himself into being Joe Biden,” and they have rehearsed “arguments that the president and vice president use to try to win their debates by default.”
The mock debates have also introduced Ryan to what it really means to be a candidate on the national stage. The GOP vice presidential nominee’s traveling campaign staff has reportedly been urging the candidate to adopt certain language and talking points in his answers, an uncomfortable experience for the congressman: "There are times when he's finally like, 'I just don't speak that way,' " said Ryan’s brother, Tobin Ryan, who has been a steady presence on the campaign trail.
Biden, meanwhile, has been spending the days in Wilmington, Del., 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.
Biden memorably committed a serious blunder in a 1987 Democratic presidential primary debate, which effectively ended his first bid for the presidency. The then-Senator reportedly used portions of a speech by Neil Kinnock without crediting the English Labor Party leader for the statement. That incident, combined with the revelation that Biden had once committed plagiarism while in law school, drove him out of the race.
Former Sen. Ted Kaufman and Mike Donilon – two of Biden’s longtime advisors – have accompanied the vice president at debate prep this week, along with Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who served on the House Budget Committee with Ryan, has been playing the role of the Republican vice presidential candidate in mock debates.
“I know the way Paul Ryan likes to present his arguments. The vice president, as you know, is very familiar with the key issues, and I hope I can help him get a sense of how Paul Ryan likes to present it,” Van Hollen said in an interview on MSNBC last month.