Vice presidential debate, often an afterthought, takes on outsized importance
With President Trump hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as he battles COVID-19, Wednesday’s debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris is surging in importance.
“I think this is an incredibly important vice presidential debate, maybe the most important ever,” emphasized longtime political scientist Wayne Lesperance, vice president of academic affairs at New England College.
With the president undergoing treatments for the coronavirus, there’s no guarantee that either the second or third presidential debates between Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden – scheduled for Oct. 15 and 22 – will take place, potentially making the vice presidential showdown the last one before Election Day on Nov. 3.
The debate is set to take place Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah. There was already heightened interest in the faceoff due to the ages of the two standard bearers. The president’s 74 and Biden’s 77. There’s plenty of speculation that Biden wouldn’t run for a second term in the White House if he wins the presidential election.
Now, with Trump battling a disease that has taken the lives of more than 200,000 Americans, the spotlight will be on the 61-year-old vice president and the 55-year-old senator from California to show voters they’re more than prepared to take over should something happen to the president.
“It’s the first event after a positive COVID diagnosis of a sitting president. It’s the first debate after what I would describe as a calamity of a debate between the two presidential candidates,” noted Lesperance. “All eyes focus on this debate and what may be front and center has nothing to do with policy, but it maybe Americans looking for vim and vigor and health in the candidates and some sign of normalcy.”
Also heightened at Wednesday’s showdown is the importance of the pandemic. While it was always going to be one of the top issues at the debate, with the president battling COVID-19, the coronavirus becomes the single most important topic.
“I don’t think you’ll hear any other language that will resonate other than what’s happening with COVID,” Lesperance stressed.
And the onus will be on Pence to defend the administration’s much-maligned handling of the pandemic – and on Harris to clearly state what a Biden-Harris administration would do differently to combat the coronavirus.