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VP hopefuls in debate prep mode

  • Story Highlights
  • Gov. Sarah Palin says she is "looking forward to" vice presidential debate
  • VP candidates' debate is set for Thursday in St. Louis, Missouri
  • Joe Biden's campaign is playing up Palin's debate skills
  • Biden, Palin spending much of the week preparing for meeting
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(CNN) -- The vice presidential candidates are taking some time off the trail this week to prepare for their highly anticipated debate Thursday.

Appearing with John McCain on Monday, Gov. Sarah Palin said she was looking forward to debating Sen. Joe Biden.

"So I guess it's my turn now, and I do look forward to Thursday night. ... I'm looking forward to meeting him, too. I never met him, but I've been hearing about his Senate speeches since I was in, like, second grade," she joked at a rally in Columbus, Ohio.

The Republican Alaska governor has generally shied away from attacking Biden directly, although she did use the "second grade" remark in an interview with Fox News two weeks ago.

Palin added that she thinks the Delaware Democrat is a "great debater."Video Watch what Palin says about the debate »

Going into a debate, campaigns try to lower expectations for their candidate while raising expectations for their opponent.

Biden's campaign has been trying to play up Palin's debate skills in the lead-up to the debate.

"She's very skilled, and she'll be well-prepared," David Axelrod, Barack Obama's chief strategist, said Sunday night as he flew with Biden back to Delaware to help him get ready.

"As you saw at the convention, she can be very good. So, I think it would be foolish to assume that this isn't going to be a really challenging debate. We're preparing for that, on that assumption."

Taking it one step further, Biden spokesman David Wade later added, "He's going in here to debate a leviathan of forensics, who has debated five times, and she's undefeated."

Axelrod said that at the end of the day, the choice voters make is between the candidates at the top of the ticket and not the vice presidential candidates.

However, he said vice presidential nominees have a harder time preparing because they need to defend not only their own positions, but also those of their running mate, and they also have to know where both candidates on the opposing ticket stand.

Biden on Monday was preparing for the debate in his home state of Delaware. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm flew with Biden from Michigan to Delaware on Sunday to play Palin in mock debates in the coming days.

In an interview Thursday, she said, "I want to beat him up a little bit, so he does well."

There is only one vice presidential debate, while there are three for the presidential candidates.

The debate offers voters one of the first unfiltered opportunities to hear Palin speak about the issues.

With the exception of a handful of television interviews, Palin has mostly stuck to campaign speeches during her first month on the campaign trail.

Biden is a far more experienced debater, and he scored well in the Democratic presidential debates before the primary season.

He has earned a reputation for impetuous and brutally honest remarks during his decades-long tenure in the Senate.

Biden has done nearly 100 interviews since being picked as Obama's running mate August 23.

Palin, on the other hand, has talked much less with reporters. Last week, she did her third interview with a national television network and held her first media availability with her traveling reporters.

Following the rally in Ohio, Palin headed McCain's ranch near Sedona, Arizona, for what a top aide calls "debate camp."

The aide, who's part of the team prepping Palin, tells CNN they decided to take her to debate camp there because it is an "invigorating and enjoyable place to prepare for Thursday."

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The aide said, "John McCain himself came up with the idea after thinking it would be great before his next debate."

Palin has already spent four days hunkered down in a Philadelphia hotel for debate prep with advisers.

CNN's Dana Bash, Peter Hamby and Alexander Marquardt contributed to this report.

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