The US vice presidential candidates face each other in debate Thursday, with Democrats itching for revenge after Mitt Romney's drubbing of President Barack Obama tightened the White House race.
After Obama's lackluster performance last week, Vice President Joe Biden (69) was expected to mount a full-throated attack against the surging Romney ticket while striving to avoid the gaffes the veteran politician is famous for.
He will face the much younger Representative Paul Ryan (42) a fiscal policy wonk whose controversial government-slashing budget made him a hero among conservatives but who has never debated on a national stage.
The vice presidential debate is usually something of a sideshow in the race, but this year all eyes will be on Danville, Kentucky to see whether Biden can stem Romney's sharp rise in the polls over recent days.
Obama tried to steady panicking supporters Wednesday, insisting he would win re-election despite last week's debate defeat and admitting that he had had a "bad night" and had been "too polite" to Romney.
"I got this," Obama said in a radio interview, predicting that Democratic "hand wringing" over his limp performance would fade as a memory after his next clash with Romney on Tuesday.
Obama's campaign team, meanwhile, launched a new assault on the resurgent Republican nominee less than four weeks before the election, accusing him of hiding "extreme" stances to win support in the vital political center ground.
Romney, for its part, campaigned across Ohio, packing in three events Wednesday in the battleground state that has never been lost by a successful Republican candidate and is seen as the epicenter of this year's election.
The state has lost thousands of blue collar jobs abroad, so Romney was on fertile political ground as he warned China's economy was gaining fast on America and accused Obama of "laxity" on enforcing free trade rules.
Obama's campaign accused Romney of peddling "head-spinning falsehoods" and suggested the former venture capitalist had swelled his fortune by investing in Chinese firms guilty of pirating US intellectual copyright.
Democrats also tried to snare Romney in a culture war, after he told the Des Moines Register newspaper in Iowa that he would not introduce any legislation as president restricting the right to abortion.
Democrats scented a cover-up, as Romney has said he would appoint Supreme Court judges who oppose the procedure.
"We know that the real Mitt Romney will say anything to win. He is cynically hiding his positions," said Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.
Romney later suggested his statements were not contradictory because he would use the presidency's executive powers - instead of writing a bill - to halt government funds for foreign organizations that promote abortion.
"I'm a pro-life candidate. I'll be a pro-life president," he said.
The Obama camp sees the abortion comments as a way to dent Romney's standing among women voters. Several polls show he improved among the crucial demographic after last week's first of a trio of debates with Obama.
Presidential candidates frequently tack to the political center to appeal to moderate voters once they have solidified support in their own party base.
But Romney spent months struggling to reassure his conservative base in a hard-fought primary and only truly began moderating his positions - on taxing the rich, immigration and health care - during last week's debate in Denver.
Recent polls show an unsettled race, with some national polls - like Gallup's daily tracking survey which had Romney and Obama tied at 48 percent - suggesting Romney's debate bounce was subsiding.
There was movement towards Romney in state surveys that had the race in battlegrounds like Nevada, Florida, Nevada and Ohio within a few points.
The debate at Kentucky's Centre College will be moderated by ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz and will begin at 9:00 pm EST (0100 GMT Friday).