Big Bird first. In the debate, Romney used the government's PBS subsidy as an example of something he would cut, declaring "I love Big Bird, but...". The Obama campaign's instant focus grouping showed this to be one of the few things Romney said that voters didn't like. So they are making the most of it, inserting a line into the president's stump speech and dispatching a giant Big Bird to Romney rallies. As Angus Deayton used to say, the words "straw" and "clutching" spring to mind.
I think Biden will relish the moment. He sees himself as a master debater, and in his own way, he is pretty good, probably better than the president. He's proved, for instance, that he can deliver a handy zinger. Although his fatal flaw is verbosity, he is at least aware of this and can even crack a good joke about it. Against Sarah Palin in 2008 he played his part very well. He was warm and generous towards her without being patronising, beaming at her benignly, like a proud uncle, as she rambled on. Paul Ryan presents a very different challenge, of course. Biden is smart enough to not to try and out-wonk him, but to out-human him instead, while playing a much more aggressive game than his boss.
If Biden is good at debating it's partly because he's a warm, gregarious and generous person who generally likes other people, including his political opponents. Presidential debates are more about demeanour than substance, and what viewers respond badly to are any hints of disdain. See, for example, Gore in 2000, Bush's first debate in 2004, McCain 2008 - and now, Obama 2012. If I were coaching a candidate for a debate, I'd spend quite a bit of time getting them to like the person they're debating. Doesn't mean they can't be tough on the other guy's arguments - in fact, it frees them to go on the offence, without being offensive.
The key to Obama's under-performance - and his generally lacklustre debating style - lies in this paragraph from a New York Times report today:
Link to (very interesting) Times report.