(Oct. 7) Watch live as Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) square off in the first and only vice presidential debate before the 2020 election on Wednesday, October 7, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Vice President Mike Pence and California Senator Kamala Harris will face off in their only debate on Wednesday, with a pair of plexiglass partitions between them as an extra precaution against coronavirus infection following President Donald Trump’s diagnosis of Covid-19.
The debate, in Salt Lake City, begins at 9 p.m. New York time. The small partitions — each one will extend just above the two politicians’ heads, according to pictures of the stage — were a matter of controversy before the debate.
Harris’s team, concerned about Pence’s exposure to Trump while he was infected, asked the Commission on Presidential Debates for the additional safety measure. But Pence’s team pushed back.
Trump’s illness has changed the character of the race, with the president effectively sidelined in the closing weeks of the campaign as he fights the very disease whose spread has imperiled his presidency. Recent public opinion polls show him falling even further behind his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, both nationally and in battleground states — with no sign of a sympathy vote for his illness.
The partitions will be a visual aid for one of Harris’s key lines of attack: that the Trump administration has mishandled the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, which killed more than 210,000 Americans before sickening the president and more than a dozen of his associates this month.
Pence chaired the White House coronavirus task force that engineered the government’s response to the pandemic.
Pence will likely lean into the Trump campaign’s effort to portray Biden and Harris as Trojan horses for the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party and warn of a turn toward socialism. He is also expected to make the case that Trump is a better steward of the economy, the one issue where — at least until recently — the president still narrowly polled ahead of Biden.
Both Harris, 55, and Pence, 61, face the challenge of persuading voters that if their septuagenarian bosses can’t finish their terms, they are prepared to step into the Oval Office.
The vice presidential debate is expected to be a much lower-key and lower-temperature affair than Trump and Biden’s first matchup last week. Trump repeatedly interrupted his opponent, prompting Biden to twice call the president a “clown” and tell him to shut up.
Harris, a former prosecutor, is known for her debate skills. She dealt a blow to her now-running mate last year when, during a Democratic primary debate, she assailed Biden’s long-ago opposition to school busing.
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me,” Harris memorably said at the time.
But Pence has his own long experience speaking in the public eye. A radio host before he entered politics, he employs a more traditional, disciplined delivery than his boss — an approach that leaves him less susceptible — though not immune — to the kinds of gaffes and falsehoods that litter Trump’s speeches.
The Harris campaign has been preparing for the debate for weeks, led by Karen Dunn, a veteran Washington lawyer who assisted Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and 2016 vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine with their debates. Former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has been playing Pence in mock debates with Harris.
Pence’s debate preparations were led by Marc Short, his chief of staff, and have included former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who played Harris in mock debates, according to a person familiar with the matter.
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