Vice President Dick Cheney (search) and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (search) are expected to have a no-holds barred showdown Tuesday, when the two men will square off for the first and only vice presidential debate in the 2004 race for the White House.
During what's being dubbed by some as "the race for Case" — since the debate will be held at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio — Cheney and Edwards will appear in a town-hall style setting to answer a wide variety of questions that could include issues like the War on Terror, the war in Iraq, the economy, jobs and health care.
Watch the debate live on the FOX News Channel at 9 p.m. EDT.
"When I walk into that debate tonight and I sit down, I am there for you," Edwards told supporters Tuesday. "There couldn't be a starker contrast. I do not have the same view of the world as Dick Cheney, and that's a good thing, that's not a bad thing."
Click here to read Tuesday's edition of FOXNews.com's daily campaign digest, Trail Tales.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush spoke by phone with Cheney Tuesday morning and wished him well in the debate. The president sees this debate as an opportunity to lay out the differences between the two campaigns, McClellan added. Bush will be watching the debate from the White House.
A coin toss determined that Cheney will answer the first question and Edwards will go first in closing remarks. The candidates will sit at a table facing moderator Gwen Ifill of PBS.
A FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken Sept. 21-22 found that expectations are on Edwards to win. Asked who will do better, 45 percent said Edwards to 35 percent for Cheney. Both men had comparable ratings when asked if people had a favorable opinion of them — for Cheney, 45 percent had a favorable rating while 43 percent had an unfavorable opinion; for Edwards, 48 percent were favorable while 34 percent were unfavorable.
The Role of the 'Attack Dog'
Richard Goodstein, a former adviser to President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, said Edwards likely will home in on Iraq and how the Bush administration has "confused" Al Qaeda (search) with Saddam Hussein (search). He said Edwards is also likely to pick up on the number of jobs lost under Bush's watch, the increased numbers of uninsured Americans and the rise in poverty.
Democrats may also target Cheney's close ties to Halliburton (search), the oil services company he ran before running for vice president. Halliburton has large-dollar contracts with the Pentagon to provide services to U.S. troops in Iraq.
"I think that's where John Edwards has the advantage," Goodstein said.
California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres noted that the Kerry-Edwards ticket could be helped at this stage of the game just by the debate's being held in Ohio, a state that alone has lost over 237,000 jobs since Bush took office.
"That's going to be a backdrop for a debate which, on domestic issues, is going to favor Democrats and I think John Edwards," Torres said.
Rick Davis, a former campaign manager for Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, said Cheney may spend more time attacking his opponent and Kerry more than addressing the issues during the 90-minute showdown.
"I think for Dick Cheney — the focus is not going to be on John Edwards. It's going to be on his liberal Senate mate, John Kerry," Davis told FOX News, noting that Kerry and Edwards have been rated as having respectively the first and fourth most liberal voting records in the chamber.
"I think the presidential debate, a lot was focused on being on the defense. I think Dick Cheney's going to go on the offensive."
Campaigning across the country this year, Cheney has demonstrated the same low-key speaking style. But his rhetoric has, at times, taken on a sharper edge, particularly during one outing last month when he warned voters that supporting Kerry and Edwards could lead to a "terrible mistake."
"If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States," the vice president said during a campaign stop in Des Moines, Iowa.
He later said he was talking about a retreat in the prosecution of the War on Terror. But the moment highlighted the role the No. 2 man on the ticket for the White House inevitably ends up playing: the role of "attack dog" in boosting the presidential candidate.
"The incumbent wants to maintain that aura of appearing presidential and yet at the same time also wants to be able to make certain negative attacks stick against his opponent," said Mark Rozell, a professor at George Mason University. "And so who better to do that than the vice presidential candidate."
Some political observers have wondered whether Edwards, who has always prided himself on staying positive on the campaign trail, has it in him to get down and dirty.
"Cheney ... doesn't really have to prove himself. He's very good at playing hardball while maintaining a very calm demeanor," GOP strategist Sheri Annis told FOX News of the former wartime chief of staff and wartime secretary of defense. "Until recently, John Edwards has been very reluctant to play that game, to play hardball, so he's going to have to step up a bit to defend Kerry."
"What persona will these two men project? Worst case scenario for Edwards is that the vice president comes across as the sage Yoda and he comes across as the novice Luke Skywalker. Worst case for the vice president is he comes across as Darth Vader against Edwards' Jedi knight Skywalker," added Peter Giuliano of Executive Communications Group, referring to characters from the Star Wars films.
If Edwards has been reluctant to play hardball, he lately has appeared up to the task.
"George W. Bush needs to come back to planet Earth and get out of fantasy land, that's what he needs to do," the trial-lawyer-turned-politician said at a recent campaign stop in Des Moines, Iowa.
After practicing in Chautauqua, N.Y., Edwards headed to Cleveland late Monday afternoon after doing a couple run-throughs on a mock set. His wife, Elizabeth, and several staffers were helping him prepare for the big event. Washington lawyer Bob Barnett has been playing the role of Cheney
Over the weekend, Cheney's daughter Liz and adviser Mary Matalin worked closely with him on debate preparations at his Wyoming home. Ohio Rep. Rob Portman was standing in as Edwards for Cheney's practice debates. He was set to travel to Cleveland on Tuesday.
Appearing on "FOX and Friends" Tuesday morning, Matalin said the Bush-Cheney camp wasn't worried about Edwards' plan of attack.
"We don't care if he attacks us. We expect him to attack us. That's why he's on the ticket. That's what he's going to do tonight. We're not about that," Matalin said. "What we're about is talking about the second-term agenda. And unlike the Kerry campaign, unlike both Senators Kerry and Edwards, they don't want to talk about their record … we want to talk about our record — and it's a strong record."
Republicans went on the attack against Edwards with two ads Tuesday morning. Entitled "Medical Malpractice" and "Tort Reform," the ads don't mention the junior senator from North Carolina by name but denounce damage to the health-care system, supposedly done by medical-malpractice lawsuits, like the ones Kerry's running mate used to file and win for his clients.
The ad says: "Frivolous lawsuits from out-of-control personal injury trial lawyers. And John Kerry and the liberals in Congress ... stand with those trial lawyers. They've voted to block medical lawsuit reform 10 times. And that's why our good doctors are leaving."
FOX News' Molly Henneberg, James Rosen and Kelly Wright contributed to this report.