SAN RAMON, Calif. — How does a candidate ready himself to face off in front of millions against Vice President Biden, a politician of vast experience who is well-known for his ability to talk?
For Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee, preparing to debate Biden means increasing amounts of time closeted away in hotel rooms and ever-thicker briefing books that his aides say he may soon start lugging around in a backpack instead of a briefcase.
After headlining two closed-door fundraisers in California on Saturday and visiting Google headquarters to host an online “hangout” with campaign volunteers, Ryan on Sunday will take a day off the campaign trail to huddle with advisers in the Portland, Ore., area for his first full day of debate preparations, according to two Romney aides traveling with him.
“Vice President Joe Biden served over 30 years in the United States Senate, he’s run for president twice and has served as vice president for the past four years. He is one of the most experienced debaters in American political life, and we definitely don’t take the challenge lightly,” said one of the aides, who was not authorized to publicly discuss Ryan’s debate preparations and therefore spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Ryan and Biden will debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky., on Oct. 11.
The full day of preparation — which is expected to be broken up by a brief pause to watch the Green Bay Packers game — will focus on likely debate topics and questions rather than serve as a mock debate.
Ryan already has been making time to fit in some study sessions on the trail. Last Sunday, in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., he watched a tape of Biden’s 2008 vice presidential debate against former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R), according to an aide.
Ryan also has been reading debate-specific briefing books put together by a team of campaign advisers that was assembled during the GOP convention, and he has been absorbing the material as well as giving feedback to aides on debate strategy.
One of those study sessions came Friday afternoon, when, after a campaign rally in Sparks, Nev., Ryan spent more than two hours at a Hyatt hotel in nearby Reno huddled with advisers.
Like Mitt Romney, who last week was ensconced in Vermont preparing for his upcoming face-off against President Obama, Ryan is expected to buckle down for a “debate camp” of his own sometime before the debate, although the time and place have not yet been decided.
The campaign has not yet announced who will play the role of Biden in Ryan’s debate preparation sessions. In a Fox News Channel interview last week, Ryan said only that his counterpart will be “somebody who really knows what he’s doing.”
Aides pushed back on the notion that foreign policy is one area on which Ryan will need to focus in particular.
Ryan serves as House Budget Committee chairman and is known for his grasp of federal budgetary matters. But he is less well-versed in foreign affairs, and he faces a more-experienced rival in Biden, who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
One aide pointed to Ryan’s experience traveling abroad during his 14 years as a member of Congress, his authorship of a measure that would avert $500 billion in looming defense cuts set to take effect next year, and his oversight of defense spending, noting that “the percentage of the federal budget dedicated to national security and homeland security is quite high.”
As for whether Ryan — who was thrust onto the national stage only a month ago — is working to get up to speed on policy minutiae ahead of the October debate, one Romney aide said the focus is more on “thinking about how to prepare for debating on these issues rather than just becoming an expert on these issues.”
“He knows a lot. And he knows a lot about a lot of things,” the aide said. “So it’s not so much a crash course on how to get smarter in a particular policy area as it is how to think about debating someone who is an extremely experienced debater.”