By John Whitesides
DANVILLE, Kentucky (Reuters) - Democrats are betting on U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to deliver a feisty performance Thursday evening during a high-stakes debate against Republican challenger Paul Ryan and seize back momentum in the race for the White House.
Republican Mitt Romney's steady climb in polls since President Barack Obama's poor showing in their first debate last week have intensified expectations for the vice presidential showdown with less than four weeks before the November 6 election.
The former Massachusetts governor has taken the lead in national surveys and narrowed the gap by which he trails Obama in many of the swing states that will decide the election.
Romney led the Democratic incumbent by 47 percent to 44 percent in the Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Thursday - the online poll showed the challenger with a one percentage point advantage on Wednesday.
Several new swing-state polls released on Thursday also showed Romney edging closer to Obama among likely voters. Obama had a six-point lead in an Ohio poll and a five-point lead in a Virginia survey. Separate polls in Virginia, Colorado, Florida and Wisconsin had gaps of three points or less.
Biden, 69, a veteran politician and accomplished debater known for delivering withering attacks with a smile, will try to improve the outlook for the Democrats before Romney and Obama meet for a second televised debate next Tuesday.
The 42-year-old Ryan, who has served seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and is chairman of the House Budget Committee, has been criticized for being a cautious campaigner since Romney chose him as his running mate in August. The Wisconsin congressman will look to ward off Biden's attacks while avoiding his own tendency to get mired in numbers.
Foreign policy is expected to be a ripe topic. Republicans are eager to take the Obama administration to task over last month's attacks on U.S.