Sarah Palin was not the only vice-presidential candidate to face embarrassment on prime-time TV last week.

Joe Biden might have sounded more coherent than his Republican counterpart in their respective interviews with Katie Couric, the CBS news anchor. But it was the Democrat who made the most glaring gaffe.

Criticising President George W. Bush’s low-key response to the financial crisis, he recalled how, when the stock market crashed in 1929, Franklin D. Roosevelt “got on the television” to say what was happening.

There were two flaws in Mr Biden’s historical reference: Herbert Hoover was president at the time of the Great Crash and the television was not introduced to the US for another 10 years.

The mistake brought a reminder that it is not only Republicans who have reason to feel nervous about tomorrow’s vice-presidential debate. Mr Biden has also proved himself amply capable of digging a hole for the Democrats over the past few weeks.

While the media has remained focused on Ms Palin’s shaky introduction to national politics, Mr Biden has been reinforcing his own reputation for verbal recklessness.

The Delaware senator condemned one of the Obama campaign’s own negative advertisements as “terrible”, undermining Democratic efforts to claim the moral high ground over “low road” Republican tactics.

He voiced opposition to the AIG bail-out the day before Barack Obama backed it – earning a rebuke from the Illinois senator – and alienated coal-mining states by speaking out against new coal plants, even though the campaign officially supports “clean coal” technology.

He even told a campaign rally that Hillary Clinton “might have been a better pick than me” as running mate, adding fuel to the debate over whether Mr Obama should have opted for his primary rival instead.

Republicans have contrasted the media’s relatively easy-going treatment of Mr Biden’s gaffes with the withering mockery of Ms Palin, citing it as proof of the liberal bias they say is distorting coverage of the election.

McCain officials also complain that while the media have been trawling through everything from Ms Palin’s expense reports to her college record, little attention has been paid to potential embarrassments in Mr Biden’s background.

Mr Biden has ties to the financial services industry through MBNA, a Delaware-based credit card company, which has been one of his biggest campaign donors and once employed his son as a lobbyist.

He was a leading supporter of industry-backed legislation to reform bankruptcy laws in 2005, putting him at odds with Mr Obama who opposed the measures. Critics say the bill was rigged in favour of lenders but the Obama campaign says Mr Biden fought for tougher consumer rights.

While Mr Biden has largely avoided tough scrutiny, he has also struggled to attract positive attention as Ms Palin and, more recently, the financial crisis have dominated the campaign. He has been well received at campaign events, particularly in the white, working-class areas where Mr Obama has struggled to connect. But there have been few opportunities for him to show off the foreign policy experience that was supposed to be his main asset.

That will change on Thursday night. Besides avoiding gaffes, his biggest challenge will be to rein in his verbosity and refrain from patronising Ms Palin. He has spent the past few days practising with Jennifer Granholm, the Michigan governor, playing the role of Ms Palin. “I want to beat him up a little bit, so he does well,” she said before one session.

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