In Debate, Vice Presidential Candidates See New Scrutiny

On October 7, 2020, the two major party nominees for Vice President of the United States—Vice President Mike Pence (R-IN) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)—squared off in their one and only televised debate.

Conventional wisdom holds that running mates usually have a negligible impact upon presidential election results. However, some pundits have speculated that because of the advanced age of the two presidential nominees (President Donald Trump is 74, and former Vice President Joe Biden is 77), and because of the related fear that an elderly president might die in office, voters will be more focused on the vice presidential nominees in 2020 than they usually are during presidential campaigns. If that speculation holds true, the vice presidential debate—which was much more civil and substantive than the presidential candidates’ shambolic September 29 debate—offered voters a clear picture of the candidates’ skills, and temperaments. Vice President Pence came across as well-prepared and unflappable, while Sen. Harris showcased her argumentation skills and her ability to weave personal stories into her remarks. Both candidates sidestepped questions from the moderator, and neither candidate was bashful about demanding more time to speak. According to Politico, a majority of viewers identified Sen. Harris as the winner of the debate.

The debate also showcased the differences in ideology between the Trump/Pence ticket and the Biden/Harris ticket. Vice President Pence laid out a platform of support for fracking and natural gas, opposition to the Paris Climate Agreement and the proposed Green New Deal, a tough approach to China, opposition to the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, and opposition to the notion of increasing the number of judges on the Supreme Court of the United States. Regarding the issue of abortion, the Vice President said, “I couldn’t be more proud to serve as vice president to a President who stands on a policy for the sanctity of human life. I’m pro-life. I don’t apologize for it.” In contrast, Sen. Harris supported the Paris Climate Agreement and a plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2035; pushed for community colleges to be free and for public universities to be free for students from low- and middle-income families; opposed a trade war with China; opposed the Trump tax law; and supported a criminal justice plan that includes a ban on chokeholds, a national registry for lawbreaking police offers, an end to cash bail, and marijuana decriminalization. On abortion, the Senator said, “I will always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body. It should be her decision and not that of Donald Trump, and the Vice President, Michael Pence.”

A transcript of the debate is available here.