Meet the Veeps: Paul Ryan and Joe Biden

Paul Ryan (r) and Joe Biden (l)

Paul Ryan and Joe Biden go head-to-head in Thursday's US vice-presidential debate. Here's a quick guide to the two men and the VP's job.

Paul Ryan Joe Biden

Reporting by Cordelia Hebblethwaite

Who is he?

Republican Congressman for Wisconsin, 42. Energetic, and popular within the party. Seen as the face of Republican budget policy.

Vice-President of the United States since 2009, 69. Has a reputation for reaching across the aisle to Republicans.

Experience

In politics since he was 28. Elected to House in 1998 and went on to chair its Budget Committee, producing a rival budget to Obama's.

Elected to the Senate at 29. Served as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Ran for the Democratic nomination in 1988 and 2008.

Family life

Paul Ryan's wife Janna and two sons

Born in Janesville, Wisconsin, where he still lives. Married with three children. A practising Catholic, with Irish roots. Aged 16, Ryan discovered his father dead in his bed after a heart attack. Says his father's death made him a more self-reliant person. "It was just a punch in the gut. I concluded I've either got to sink or swim in life."

Joe Biden and his wife Jill arrive in Charlotte, for the Democratic Party Convention

Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Later moved to Delaware. Catholic, with Irish roots. First wife and daughter died in a car crash - "I felt God had played a terrible trick on me," he said. Two sons were also injured. Remarried and has one daughter. Had surgery in 1988 on blood vessels in brain, but recovered fully.

Early days

Voted prom king and "biggest brown noser" (someone who sucks up). Studied economics and political science at Miami University, Ohio.

Struggled with a stutter as a child. Studied history and political science at the University of Delaware, and law at Syracuse University.

Stands for

Darling of the Tea Party movement. Says government must cut spending to reduce the deficit, and reform Medicare, the health programme for over 65s. A social conservative, he is pro-life and anti gun control.

A veteran of the Senate, he has worked to support women's rights, and minority rights, and was an advocate for intervention in the Balkans in the early 1990s.

Him and the boss

Joe Biden (l) and Mitt Romney (r) walk through a large crowd during campaigning

Endorsed Romney early and campaigned for him. They discussed fiscal issues in the early stages of the nomination process, and reportedly hit it off. Good dynamics when they campaign together, but the relationship is in its early days, so is largely untested.

Joe Biden (l) and Barack Obama (r)

Ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, but - with Hillary Clinton and Obama dominating the race - pulled out early. Obama then chose him as his running mate, valuing his wide-ranging experience and his appeal to blue-collar voters.

Famous for

Being a fitness enthusiast, and leading classes in the gruelling workout plan, P90X, at Congress. Citing novelist Ayn Rand as inspiration - though says he disagrees with her atheism.

Going off-script and speaking his mind. Biden recently put Obama on the spot when he said he was "absolutely comfortable" with gay marriage - before the president had stated his position in favour.

Low point

Was widely lampooned for saying he had run a marathon in under three hours - later admitted it was more like four.

Pulled out of the presidential nomination race in 1987, after allegations he plagiarised part of a speech by then Labour leader, Neil Kinnock.

Others say

"Nearly every important conservative opinion-maker and think tank has rallied around his policies."

"A tenacious, wholehearted fighter". "Biden is bringing sexy back," says Politico - noting his popularity with women over 65.

Veepstakes

What's a veep?

A shortened form of VP (vice-president) first used in 1949. Takes over if the president is no longer able to govern - hence the phrase "only a heartbeat away from the presidency". This has happened 14 times - including when JFK was assassinated and when Richard Nixon resigned. Presides over the Senate and casts a deciding vote. In the 1930s, Vice-President John Nance Garner described the role as "not worth a bucket of warm spit". But many vice-presidents now take on important portfolios and act as a "sounding-board" for the president.

Does the VP matter?

Young boy looks through flags at a Joe Biden campaign event in 2012

There will be "a lot of eyeballs" on Thursday night's VP debate, says Roger Simon, chief political columnist of Politico. "It's another part of theatre, but it's not Broadway, it's off Broadway," he says. "When you get into the polling booth, you tend to vote for who you want as president." Often serves as a springboard to a later presidential bid, though - George Bush Senior, and Al Gore were both VPs first.

Debating style

Ryan has no experience debating on the national stage, but it's likely to be a format he enjoys, says Simon. "He loves to say, 'That's just an attack - what's your plan?'" Biden is "vigorous", says Simon, and tells a lot of anecdotes. "Biden could say anything, and usually does. He's enjoyable to watch."

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