Ryan prepares to take on skilled debater Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — To prepare for his biggest

test yet on the national stage, untested debater Paul Ryan has been

hauling two

thick briefing books around the country and intently studying up

on Vice President Joe Biden, who has been sparring over public

policy since the Wisconsin congressman was learning how to talk.

Ryan, the 42-year-old Republican vice presidential nominee, has suggested his youth will be an asset in connecting with voters

at the sole vice presidential debate Thursday in Kentucky against the 69-year-old former senator. But risks abound for the

GOP rising star, who hasn't participated in a campaign debate since his first run for office 14 years ago.

The main goal for Ryan's inner-circle: get him comfortable answering questions in broad terms that connect with voters and

avoid the wonky, in-the-weeds answers more appropriate for a budget hearing than a living room.

Ryan's team wants to keep him talking about positive changes a Romney-Ryan administration would mean for the country, not

a full-throated defense of the campaign's sometimes nebulous math.

As the House Republicans' top budget writer,

aides say Ryan is confident he can handle questions about federal

spending and

taxes. He is a bit more nervous on international affairs — and for

good reason. Ryan was thrust into the national spotlight

a few months ago when he joined the Republican ticket but has

limited exposure in that arena.

Biden is a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a skilled debater, both within the administration

and against its critics, and someone whose opinion President Barack Obama seeks out on major decisions.

Ryan also is bracing for Biden to try to help Obama overcome a rough patch by staking out an aggressive tone.

"I really think that because they had such a bad debate that Joe is just going to come flying at us," Ryan said this week.

His biggest worry: looking unprepared the

way his mentor and former boss, Jack Kemp, did in the 1996 debate

against Vice President

Al Gore.

Ryan has spent hours huddling with advisers

to polish his delivery and has been cramming with aides to sharpen his

grasp of

foreign policy and national security issues. As they prepared in

Virginia's mountains about 150 miles from Washington, Ryan

focused on trying to shoehorn knowledge gained from seven terms in

the House into two-minute answers. He has watched video

of Biden's 2008 vice presidential debate and recent campaign

appearances. He knows Biden's cadences and verbal ticks, including

the signature "ladies and gentlemen" and punchy "folks" to get the

audience's attention.

Ryan also has spent time working on trying

to keep Biden from cutting him off, talking over him or throwing a

wrench into

his rehearsed answers. During practice debates, his stand-in for

Biden, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, has been aggressive

in trying to throw Ryan off his game.

Above all else, aides tell Ryan to avoid specific numbers.

"He's learning how to debate," said Michael Steel, Ryan's traveling spokesman who was a top aide to House Speaker John Boehner.

"It's not about learning policy. ... It's about learning how to debate at this level."

Ryan and his aides also are trying to play up the vice president's skills and perhaps set unrealistic expectations for Biden,

who is doing his own cram sessions in Delaware before the meeting in Danville, Ky.

"Joe Biden's been doing this for 40 years," Ryan told WTMJ-AM radio in Milwaukee. "I mean, the man ran for president twice,

he's the sitting vice president. And this is my first time on this kind of stage. So sure, there's a lot of pressure."

He later seemed to suggest that his youth gave him the upper hand.

"I've been in Congress 14 years. I'm a younger person. I'm next generation," he told WTOL in Toledo, Ohio. "I'm in my 40s.

Joe Biden is in his 60s. I'm used to debating people in Joe's generation in Congress."

Ryan aides note that more people watched

Biden's 2008 debate against then-Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP vice

presidential nominee,

than any of Obama's debates against Republican John McCain. But

that was as much about Palin's celebrity and curiosity about

her and not the weight of the vice presidents' roles.

This time, Republicans have nominated a wonk who is a walking collection of think tank studies — not a first-term governor

from Alaska like Palin.

Ryan and Olson practiced three times before

heading into more intense sessions in the Virginia mountains. They wore

suits

and ties and dined on room service in Washington hotels for two

sessions, then donned plaid shirts and ate Jimmy Johns sandwiches

at the other session in Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wis.

In Virginia, they simulated the debate setting, in which Biden and Ryan will be seated.

Kerry Healey, who was Romney's lieutenant when he was governor of Massachusetts and now advises him on foreign policy, stood

in for debate moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News and even channeled the newswoman's speaking style.

Ryan has tried to keep the number of

advisers in the room with him to fewer than 10. From time to time,

Romney aides from

the Boston campaign headquarters joined the preparations,

including strategist Russ Schriefer, longtime loyalist Beth Myers

and conservative liaison Peter Flaherty. Foreign policy hand Dan

Senor also has been helping Ryan.

Ryan hasn't debated since his first run for Congress — in 1998 at age 28.