WASHINGTON - The first debate of the 2012 election season proved a surprise to many who didn't expect to witness a cool and professorial Obama versus an animated and eager Romney.
The performance that jolted the race into a dead heat is perhaps why additional attention has been lauded on Thursday night's sidekick matchup between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., which could put some distance between the lead candidates.
"No election was ever won because of a vice presidential nominee, but some may have been lost because of them," says Sam Tanenhaus, the New York Times Book Review editor, who narrates a feature the newspaper put together on highlights of previous vice presidential debates.
These debates are the "testing grounds," he says, to prove whether the person at the top of the ticket made the right choice in selecting their potential successor.
Notable moments include Lloyd Bentsen's textbook zinger against Dan Quayle in the 1988 debate, and Biden's inaugural performance against a disarming Sarah Palin, who headed off her inability to pronounce her opponent's last name by asking "Can I call you Joe?"
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