updated 10/5/2004 12:17:22 AM ET 2004-10-05T04:17:22

Perhaps no administration official is as controversial as Dick Cheney.  He is arguably the most powerful Vice President in history.  On Tuesday night, he will face a man who built a fearsome reputation as a courtroom lawyer. 

It should be a compelling match-up: The somber experience of Dick Cheney versus the energetic optimism of John Edwards.

But both campaigns say that the debate will not be about the running mates. They maintain that the vice presidential nominees will be slugging it out over Sen. Kerry and President Bush.

Republican strategists say that in addition to portraying Sen. Kerry as wavering, Mr. Cheney will also talk up President Bush as steadfast and principled.

Democrats, say John Kerry  following the first debate doesn’t need as much of a boost from his running mate. So Edwards is expected to go on the attack, hitting the Bush administration for the problems in Iraq and for economic challenges here at home.

The sit-down format of Tuesday’s debate is similar to what Vice President Cheney faced four years ago. But one line in that debate may be used against him.

In his debate with Joe Lieberman in 2000, Cheney said, “I clearly have spent a lot of time in executive positions, running large organizations,”

Halliburton, for its overbilling, is now a source of Republican embarrassment. Democrats expect Edwards to mention that repeatedly, and to highlight this statement the vice president made before the Iraq war.

The fact is that Vice President Cheney, as the incumbent, will have to defend more ground than his challenger. But there is also huge pressure on John Edwards: Edwards has never faced this kind of debate format… and he will be trying to keep the Democrats momentum going.

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