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For Biden, debate with Trump offers moment of truth
JOE Biden's cautious US presidential campaign faces its most unpredictable challenge yet in Tuesday's debate against Donald Trump - a setting with potential for explosive exchanges and one the ex-vice president has struggled with before.
Mr Biden, who leads in polling barely five weeks before the Nov 3 election, is expected to aim for calm confidence while presenting himself as an empathetic unifier to a polarised nation.
But he also signalled his fists will be up, telling MSNBC last Friday that "the people know the president is a liar".
"I am prepared to go out and make my case as to why I think he's failed, and why I think the answers I have will help the American people," Mr Biden added.
He may need to steel himself against a barrage by a provocative president who has repeatedly accused Democrats, without evidence, of "rigging" the election and stated he may not abide by its results.
While Mr Trump races from one rally to another slamming his opponent's "radical socialism", Mr Biden is a diminished presence on the campaign trail.
Mindful of Covid-19 restrictions and dangers, the veteran Democrat's handlers have insulated him from crowds of voters, guiding him towards delivering speeches to reporters or occasionally visiting battleground states for small-scale events.
The 77-year-old Mr Biden no longer cuts the same figure he did as Barack Obama's deputy. Although the megawatt smile remains, his gait is more delicate and his fine white hair thinned.
Mr Trump, 74, regularly calls Mr Biden "Sleepy Joe" and accuses him of diminished mental acuity, but the strategy could backfire if Mr Biden performs well.
The former vice-president's record in debates has been shaky. In early primary clashes, he was often shouted down and crowded out by younger, more boisterous rivals, but as the field shrank, Mr Biden fared better and his empathy came through convincingly.
In the twilight of a long career, Mr Biden is betting he can win over Americans tired of his polar opposite Mr Trump.
Mr Trump brought bombast to the White House, but Mr Biden offers reassurance, a self-proclaimed unifier with blue-collar roots and a personal rapport with voters.
He is riding into the debates pledging action on climate change, jobs, racial injustice, student debt relief and expanded help for families suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic's effects.
Elected one of the youngest US senators ever, Mr Biden served for over three decades in the upper chamber and launched two failed White House bids before his eight years as deputy to America's first black president.
Mr Biden's message is built largely on his association with the still-popular Mr Obama and his moderate politics in a divisive time.
As "Uncle Joe", he is known for his folksy manner, but he also has a propensity for gaffes, and Mr Biden's decades-long political career could make it easy for Mr Trump to highlight his opponent's missteps. AFP