Both sides tried to raise expectations for the other ahead of the Oct. 11 debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky. A Romney aide who asked not to be named in order to preview the debate said Biden is “an incredibly experienced figure” with a substantial amount of time on the debate stage as well as in the Oval Office and in the White House Situation Room.
“He’s been the president’s strongest surrogate throughout the past four years, and the biggest Achilles’ heel he’ll have is the president’s record,” the Romney aide said.
In a bit of expectations-setting on the Democratic side, an Obama campaign official said that Biden “has been preparing for his debate with Congressman Ryan – a candidate who has an exceptional grasp of policy details and budgetary matters.” The Obama aide also asked not to be named.
Spending several days off the trail behind closed doors at “debate camp” is a typical practice of White House candidates. President Obama on Sunday travels to Henderson, Nev., for three days of debate “boot camp” ahead of next Wednesday’s face-off, while Romney spent three days earlier this month engaged in debate preparations in rural Vermont.
For Ryan, the Oct. 11 debate is a particularly high-stakes one given that it will mark the first time that the seven-term Wisconsin Republican has faced an opponent on the national stage. Biden, by contrast, has had experience on the debate stage during both of his unsuccessful presidential runs as well as against GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin four years ago.
Ryan, who has been spending time on the road studying and editing thick binders prepared for him by campaign staff and organized by issue area, held his first full day of debate preparations three weeks ago in the Portland, Ore., area.
He has also had three practice sessions so far with former U.S. solicitor general Ted Olson, who is playing the role of Biden in Ryan’s preparations.
Two of those sessions were held in Washington-area hotels, where the candidate and his team were dressed formally and had coffee and soda as refreshments, according to a campaign aide. One session took place earlier this month at the Holiday Inn Express in the candidate’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., where Ryan and others were dressed more casually and conducted their debate preparations over Jimmy John’s sandwiches.
Biden, so far, has held one mock debate session with Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Maryland Democrat tapped by the vice president last month to play the role of Ryan in his debate preparations. Biden, too, is expected to huddle for debate camp ahead of the Kentucky face-off, although details on the time and place were not immediately available.
Van Hollen, who is Ryan’s Democratic counterpart on the House Budget Committee, told reporters at the Capitol earlier this month, “I’ve got my lines. I’ve got to work on my other — my gestures.”
A Romney aide said that Olson, too, has “clearly put a lot of time” into his portrayal of Biden during the practice sessions and that the former solicitor general “does a good imitation of [Biden’s] manner.”
“He has a very firm grasp of the vice president’s policies and the attacks that he uses,” the aide said.