DANVILLE, Ky. - Dick Cheney and Joseph Lieberman square off in their only debate of the 2000 campaign Thursday night, with Cheney saying he wants voters to ''get a look at me'' and Lieberman proclaiming himself in fighting trim to make his own prime-time impression.
Hours before the vice presidential confrontation, Lieberman, his wife Hadassah and their son Matthew jogged more than two miles in a park, the candidate wearing a T-shirt that read, ''Fightin' Joe Lieberman Debate Camp'' on the front and ''Champ'' on the back.
Asked if he planned to be aggressive against Cheney, Lieberman said, ''I'm going to be me. Don't force me to sing ''I Gotta Be Me.'''
After days of practice, the Republican and Democratic vice presidential nominees meet here at Centre College for their 90-minute debate. It begins at 9 p.m. EDT.
Cheney was greeted in Lexington by an airport rally, telling a group of about 75 supporters that the debate is ''a great opportunity for Senator Lieberman and I to have a conversation, if you will, with the American people, and to lay out what it is we hope to do for the country. Governor Bush and I think we have got the right approach.''
Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush have two more presidential debates before them, on Oct. 11 in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Oct. 17 in St. Louis.
An estimated 46.5 million people watched Tuesday's Bush-Gore debate, according to Nielsen Media Research. Fewer viewers are expected to tune in for Cheney-Lieberman since the understudies generally attract less attention then the men who want to be president.
For Lieberman, the Connecticut senator, and Cheney, the former defense secretary, the aim of the talk-show style debate, where they will sit at a table with moderator Bernard Shaw of CNN, is to seek support for the men at the top of their tickets.
Lieberman's biggest assets may be a manner that at times allows him to criticize without appearing to, his experience in debating on the Senate floor and his sense of humor, analysts say.
Cheney's advantages include an authoritative manner, his own years as a congressman and his experience running the Pentagon during the Persian Gulf War.
''We have very different voting records in Congress,'' said Lieberman, who has spent the past three days at debate camp in Kentucky. ''We have very different ideas about the future.''
Cheney, who ran through his fourth mock debate Wednesday in Washington, said before flying to Kentucky that he wants to have ''a conversation with the American people. It's important that they get a look at me.''
After watching their leaders debate Tuesday night, Lieberman said it was a sign of desperation for Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, to go after President Clinton - by indirection, not by name - while questioning Gore's character and disputing his credibility.
Cheney effectively started it back at the Republican National Convention, saying Gore was trying to shed Clinton baggage but that it was impossible to see one without thinking of the other.
Gore chose not to counterattack on the character issue in the debate in Boston, and as he campaigned Wednesday, although he made a point of reminding voters again that he is running as his own man and wants to be judged for who he is.
Bush campaign officials on Wednesday challenged several of Gore's debate statements, including his tale about a Florida high school student who had to stand because there weren't enough desks for her overcrowded science class. She did, but only for the first day of class. Republicans said it was a fresh example of Gore's ''embellishments and exaggerations.
Cheney was even more blunt: ''Al Gore, once again, made up facts,'' he told the Republican National Committee in Washington.
The vice presidential candidates' wives appeared on morning talk shows Thursday to talk up their husbands' strengths.
Lynne Cheney said her husband was ''relaxed and ready'' heading into the debate.
''I know Dick has found it important when he's been out on the campaign trail to talk about important things that have not happened in the last 7 years,'' Mrs. Cheney said on CBS' ''The Early Show.'' She mentioned Social Security reform and prescription drugs for seniors.
Appearing on ABC's ''Good Morning America,'' Hadassah Lieberman said she told her husband, ''The best thing you have, Joe, is yourself. Just be yourself - everyone loves you, you're great.''
When asked to remark on a recent radio appearance in which her husband said he would be willing to meet with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Mrs. Lieberman said, ''He's going to have to speak to a lot of people, and some of those people are not going to agree with him. Hopefully, Joe's reputation has always been for being able to sit down with people and, you know, bring them in to the circle.''
There have been vice presidential debates in five campaigns, the first, in 1976. They have tended to emphasize issues and differences of the presidential nominees, rather than on the No. 2 candidates.