Ryan, Biden, Noem and Varilek

Ready for the Kentucky Derby, VP version? The vice presidential debate from Danville, Ky., is next on the campaign menu.

VP Joe “Whoops!” Biden and wannabe No. 2 Paul “Close Enough” Ryan will spar at 8 p.m. Thursday. It’s the sole vice presidential contest. The final two debates will be between the guys at the top of the ticket, President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Tonight we will witness the Prince of Gaffes, former Sen. Joe Biden, vs. a man who loves to stretch the facts until they snap, Rep. Paul Ryan. Both have kept fairly low profiles this campaign, as the bosses have hoped to keep the damage to a minimum.

VP debates have often been lively — Bob Dole and his “Democrat wars” in 1976, George H.W. Bush’s claim of having kicked butt in 1984, Lloyd Bentsen’s classic “You’re no Jack Kennedy” line of 1988, and Sarah Palin and “Joe” in 2008 pop to mind.

Do they have an impact on the election? Doubtful. Bentsen’s well-rehearsed velvet knife into poor Dan Quayle helped define both men, and was probably the greatest moment in VP debate history. But Bush and Quayle won the 1988 election in a walk.

But tonight’s debate could resonate here in SD. Rep. Kristi Noem continues to try to link Matt Varilek to the Obama administration, and she has often expressed her admiration for Ryan. Meanwhile, Varilek, who appears to be making a serious run at the seat, thanks to support from the state and national party, acts like he’s not sure who Obama and Biden are.

A news-making debate could raise ripples in our pond. Both sides will watch this with their breath held.

Varilek consistently says Noem is lying in her folksy campaign ads, while she claims he is deeply tied to Obama, who is sure to lose SD. It’s like 2010, when Noem and her backers did all they could to wrap Speaker Nancy Pelosi around Stephanie Herseth Sandlin’s neck.

These Democrats are fighting back. Obama said he will be more confrontational during his next two debates with Romney, and Varilek seems to be taking the same approach.

Tonight is the VP debate. Friday afternoon, Noem and Varilek will spar in Rapid City during the RC Journal’s event. Biden and Ryan will get much more attention, but we may see plenty of sparks at both.

The election is less than four weeks away, and things are heating up. Biden, Ryan, Noem and Varilek may add fuel to the fire.