CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here's what you need to know about Joe Biden's debate prep: The vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky., doesn't take place until Oct. 11, more than a month away, but Biden already has put in 60 hours of prep time.
When Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan was chosen to be Mitt Romney's running mate, the instant conventional wisdom was that the 42-year-old, sharp-tongued budget wonk would make quick work of the 69-year-old vice president.
After all, Biden is famously loquacious and capable of veering disastrously off-message, and Ryan, a generation younger, has honed his arguing skills for the last decade in ferocious and detailed combat on economic policy, spending numbers and economic theory.
Biden's situation heading into the debate is the reverse of that in 2008. Back then, it was assumed he would trounce the ill-prepared and intermittently educated Sarah Palin, but her theatrical skills and low expectations worked in her favor, and she more than survived the encounter.
This time, the expectations are reversed but perhaps should not be.
First, there is the format and the host. Half of the debate is on foreign policy, arguably Biden's strongest area of expertise as the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The moderator is Martha Raddatz of ABC News, a premier foreign and State Department correspondent who has interviewed Biden many times over the years.
Second, there is Biden's own considerable debating experience in a long Senate career.
And third, there is his personal sense of being underestimated intellectually, which has always fueled him and often caused him to prepare harder than anyone else in the room -- even if his gift of gab sometimes undercuts him.
"He is working very hard," said one of his aides.
Biden's main partner in debate prep is David Ginsberg, a former director of opposition research for Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000 who has gone on to major political consulting jobs and is now head of research for the Intel Corp. Known for his tough, smart "oppo" work, he will be mining the rich vein of statements and actions by Rep. Ryan over the years.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who has gone up against Ryan in numerous House disputes, will play him in the mock debates. The Maryland Democrat will provide a good simulation experience.
And Biden already has spent 60 hours on reading materials and bits and scraps of expected exchanges with Ryan.
When he's on, Biden can be brilliant -- and even succinct. His summary of the president's case, "Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," is probably the best of the campaign so far.