NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Joe Biden and Paul Ryan Thursday night will outline their running mates' vision of the next four years in a vice presidential debate that will almost surely provide a clash of entertainment.

Biden, who four years ago tried to avoid the perception of a bully, could come out lunging at Ryan, who is a more-than-capable adversary in this 2012 contest.

"I think Paul Ryan is going to be more than equipped to hold Joe Biden accountable on the spot," said Andrew Boucher, former national political director of Rick Santorum's 2012 campaign. "Joe Biden, he's genial, he's likable, he has a connection with the voters that I think is easy to underestimate, and he is proven to be a fierce debater."

During his 2008 debate, Biden had the advantage of being able to attack the Bush administration's record of the previous eight years to bolster his argument that voters needed a change. This year, though, Biden must defend the record of running mate Barack Obama's past four years.

It should offer Ryan a bit of wiggle room when it comes to his attacks.

However, Ryan has a decade-long history of legislating in Congress on which Biden could launch a counter-attack, with issues such as the budget, health care, social issues and taxes, among others.

"It will be interesting to see how Ryan does in a format where he's going to get, hopefully, some direct questions about their platform, and Biden sitting next to him to counter those points almost immediately," said David Di Martino, a Democratic strategist based in Washington.

Another crucial hurdle both candidates must avoid is a major gaffe.

Biden made a string of gaffes the past month that the Romney campaign has slammed and comedy shows poked fun at. One photo showed a women seemingly sitting in Biden's lap ( she wasn't), while the vice president later made a comment that the middle class had been buried the past four years.

Ryan has enjoyed the stump without much of a challenge. In interview appearances and morning news shows, the Wisconsin congressman has repeatedly avoided offering specifics about Mitt Romney's policies, and he's tip-toed around a congressional record that at times has been at odds with the governor's platform.

Following last Wednesday's wonky presidential debate, voters should prepare for a much more dynamic battle between two men who are well versed in tense legislative procedure.

"The bar is much lower for Paul Ryan; he just has to get through the 90 minutes without a major gaffe and everyone will think he handled himself really well," said Di Martino.

"Biden still has to answer for the past four years ... but unless there's a wipeout ... debates rarely move numbers -- the zingers are the types of things that we remember years later and say the campaign shifted at that moment. The reality is usually different," said Boucher.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 19 points, or 0.14%, to close at 13,326, closing more than 100 points below a high for the day of 13,428. The S&P 500 rose less than a point, 0.02%, to close at 1433, breaking its four-day losing streak. The Nasdaq fell more than 2 points, or 0.08%, to settle at 3049.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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