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Politics Four takeaways from a weirdly normal vice-presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris

09:15  08 october  2020
09:15  08 october  2020 Source:   news.yahoo.com

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Despite their obvious differences, Mike Pence has been a pillar of loyalty to his boss for four years The Commission on Presidential Debates has agreed to seat Kamala Harris and Mike Pence 12ft A Pence official told the BBC's partner in the US, CBS News, the vice - president is opposed to his

Kamala Harris and Mike Pence debate in Salt Lake City while Susan Page tries to moderate. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA. Pence ’s staff had insisted the vice - president has tested negative for Covid-19, but the two Plexiglass barriers placed between Harris and Pence served as a constant

  Four takeaways from a weirdly normal vice-presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris © Yahoo News

One week after President Trump’s aggressive interruptions of former Vice President Joe Biden turned the first presidential debate of 2020 into one of the most juvenile spectacles in campaign history, Wednesday’s face-off between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence felt, with the exception of a brief cameo by an uninvited insect, downright normal in comparison.

Pundits predicted the meeting could be the most (read: only) consequential VP debate ever. With its endless, dizzying plot twists — including Trump’s recent hospitalization for COVID-19 and the ongoing infections of more than a dozen top Republicans — 2020 has conditioned viewers to expect nothing less.

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Yet, for all that build up, the most exciting moment of the whole affair in Salt Lake City was when a fly landed on Pence’s snow-white mane and decided to perch there for two minutes.

And that’s OK. Not everything that happens in presidential politics has to be totally and completely unprecedented. In fact, an actual debate in which the candidates do actual candidate things — like delivering a talking point, or completing a sentence — came as something of a relief. And for anyone trying to decipher what Trump and Biden stand for and will do as president, Pence and Harris turned out to be much sharper and more strategic messengers than the men they’re running alongside.

Here are four takeaways from the debate.

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Kamala kept the focus on the pandemic

Kamala Harris talking on a cell phone: Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images) © Provided by Yahoo! News Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)

As the most important topic in the country, COVID-19 was, predictably, the first question of the night: What would a Biden-Harris Administration do to combat the pandemic that a Trump-Pence Administration wouldn’t? Just as predictably, Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, answered the way she’s always said she would: by prosecuting the case against Trump.

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The vice - presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris has Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris squared off in the only Mr. Pence also exaggerated or mischaracterized the Obama administration’s record in dealing with smaller scale

Vice - President Mike Pence will square off against Senator Kamala Harris at the only vice - presidential debate of the In 2016, Pence delivered a clean performance, skillfully defending Trump while relentlessly attacking Hillary Clinton. Since then, he has proven to be a loyal lieutenant of

“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said. “Here are the facts: 210,000 dead people in our country in just the last several months. Over 7 million people who have contracted this disease. One in five businesses closed.”

Citing the revelatory recordings from Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, Harris went on to accuse Trump and Pence of knowing “on January 28” that the virus is “lethal in consequence, that it is airborne, that it will affect young people,” but “cover[ing] it up” because they wanted Americans to remain “calm.”

“Can you imagine if you knew on January 28 what they knew … what you would have done to prepare?” Harris asked the audience. “How calm were you when you were panicked about where you were going to get your next roll of toilet paper? How calm were you when your kids were sent home from school and you didn’t know when they would go back? How calm were you when your children couldn’t see your parents because you were afraid they could kill them?”

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The battle between vice - presidential hopefuls happens as Covid tears through the country and Democrat Kamala Harris is about to battle Republican Vice - President Mike Pence in Salt Lake Under US law, the vice - president takes over presidential powers if the president is unable to carry

The vice presidential debate between Harris and Pence is taking place after the first presidential debate between the Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, and his Harris and Pence will only debate once, while Trump and Biden are scheduled to meet for a second face-off on 15 October.

During the Democratic primary, Harris was more focused on manufacturing memorable moments than hammering home a message. Remember, she initially captured the national spotlight by aggressively interrogating Trump’s Cabinet appointees, generating videos of her prosecutorial prowess that quickly went viral. That’s largely how she’s conducted herself on the trail (like when she hit Biden on bussing).

But Wednesday night was different. Again and again, Harris skillfully dodged questions that it wasn’t in Joe Biden’s best interest to answer: on China, on presidential disability, on expanding the size of the Supreme Court. (Pence did the same when asked if he’d want Indiana to outlaw all abortions.) Instead, Harris repeatedly pivoted back to the pandemic — and the possible fallout of Trump’s efforts to axe the Affordable Care Act, including the end of protections for pre-existing conditions — whenever moderator Susan Page tried to ask about other topics.

Harris’s mission was clear: Remind voters (as she repeated at least a half dozen times) that “over 210,000” Americans are dead from COVID-19. Her message was even clear: Trump and Pence had their chance to keep you safe — and they failed.

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Pence tried to smooth Trump’s rough edges

Mike Pence wearing a suit and tie: Vice President Mike Pence participates in the vice presidential debate against Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Alex Wong/Getty Images) © Provided by Yahoo! News Vice President Mike Pence participates in the vice presidential debate against Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Pence probably had the more challenging goal on Wednesday: To try to make his divisive boss, who is disapproved of by a majority of Americans and trailing by double-digits in the latest election polls, palatable to the remaining persuadable voters who could still tip the election to Trump.

As usual, the mild-mannered Hoosier devoted himself to the task at hand with all the aw-shucks moxie he could muster, and his smooth affect came in handy as he methodically attempted to sand the rough edges off of every controversial aspect of Trump’s record.

The New York Times report that Trump only paid $750 in federal income taxes during his first year as president? Pence countered that it was simply a sign that Trump had dedicated his life to creating “tens of thousands of American jobs” as a businessman.

That maskless Rose Garden announcement ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett that’s since been tied to a growing cluster of COVID-19 cases in and around the White House? Just another example of how “President Trump and I trust the American people to make choices in the best interest of their health.”

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Trump’s reluctance to condemn white supremacists during the first presidential debate? Nothing but more evidence of how “the media” chooses to “selectively edit” a president who actually “respects and cherishes all of the American people.”

Trump seemed happy with Pence’s performance. “Mike Pence is doing GREAT!” he tweeted at one point. “Mike Pence WON BIG!” he added later. And it’s not hard to see why: The vice president did his level best to reframe the abnormalities of Trump’s presidency in the ho-hum terms and tone of everyday American politics, while also arguing that Biden would be worse.

But the question now is whether Pence’s efforts will make any difference. Nothing this year has discernibly changed the public’s opinion of Trump — not impeachment, not a racial reckoning in the streets, not even a global pandemic. Instead those events seem to have solidified the president’s high disapproval rating and low standing in the polls.

It’s unlikely that one measured debate performance by his running mate will shift many votes.

Harris didn’t tolerate Pence’s interruptions

Kamala Harris et al. sitting on a table: Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence participate in their 2020 vice presidential campaign debate held on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., October 7, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters) © Provided by Yahoo! News Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence participate in their 2020 vice presidential campaign debate held on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., October 7, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

During last week’s presidential debate, Trump was responsible for more than three-quarters of the interruptions: 71, compared with Biden’s 22.

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The event was an unintelligible, chaotic mess because of it.

Harris, however, seemed to arrive in Salt Lake City Wednesday with a plan: to jump down Pence’s throat the second he made so much as a peep during her turn to talk.

“Mr Vice President, I’m speaking,” the senator said when Pence tried to contradict her remarks on COVID-19. “I’m speaking.”

“Mr Vice President, I’m speaking,” she said when he tried to interject on the Supreme Court. “I’m speaking.”

“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking,” she said when he accused her of lying about the economy.

“It would be important if you said the truth,” Pence snapped.

“If you don’t mind letting me finish,” Harris snapped back, “we can then have a conversation, OK?’

Ultimately, Pence interrupted Harris 10 times — twice as much as she interrupted him, according to CBS News. But the debate never spun out of control, in part because Harris was so proactive in calling Pence out.

The tactic also had another, subtler effect. One of the most interesting questions heading into the debate was how Harris’s gender and race — she’s the first woman of color on a major-party presidential ticket — would influence the on-stage dynamic. Would viewers stereotype her as “an angry black woman” if she asserted herself? According to Axios, Harris’s advisors “studied research about the different ways men and women are judged in public speaking.” Apparently they concluded that Harris sticking up for herself would make her look strong — even as she cautiously avoided any big rhetorical risks or made-for-TV moments.

The fly seen ‘round the world

Mike Pence wearing a suit and tie: Vice President Mike Pence listens to Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris with a fly on his head, during the vice presidential debate Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Patrick Semansky/AP) © Provided by Yahoo! News Vice President Mike Pence listens to Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris with a fly on his head, during the vice presidential debate Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Patrick Semansky/AP)

One hour and 13 minutes into the debate, as Pence was answering a question about racial justice, a fly evaded security and alighted on the vice president’s head. For the next 120 seconds or so — an eternity in televisual time — all anyone watching could wonder was, “When is that thing going to fly away?”

Fact check: Post misrepresents Biden-Harris event turnout in at Phoenix museum

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And then, suddenly, it did. Our rare moment of national unity was over.

Or was it? Within minutes, the Biden campaign capitalized on a surge in fly-related search traffic with a tweet that showed Biden sitting at a folding table, holding a fly swatter, poised to pounce. “Pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly,” read the caption. The accompanying link opened a fundraising page.

Roughly half an hour later, the campaign added a royal blue fly swatter to its merch store.  “Truth over flies” was inscribed on the handle. The cost was $10 — roughly five times as much as the top-ranked fly swatter on Amazon.com.

Judging by online activity in the hours after the show ended, the fly may wind up being the only thing history recalls about an otherwise quotidian VP debate. Which would be fitting for 2020, in a sense. Amid the partisanship and polarization, who knew a bug was the only thing that could bring the American people together?

Cover thumbnail photos: Justin Sullivan/Pool via Getty Images (2)

a close up of a sign © Yahoo News

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Read more from Yahoo News:

  • Sign up for the Yahoo 2020 Election Newsletter

  • Yahoo News/YouGov poll: Biden expands lead to 8 points

  • Why the date of Trump's last negative COVID-19 test matters

  • As COVID spread through White House, top Trump allies and family members mingled at events in D.C.

  • Should the Supreme Court have term limits?

  • PHOTOS: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — A look back

Fact check: Post misrepresents Biden-Harris event turnout in at Phoenix museum .
A post on social media claiming a Biden-Harris event at a museum had no turnout ignores the fact it wasn't intended to be a campaign rally.“Embarrassing: Biden-Harris Held Arizona Rally, According to Media, No One Showed,” the Facebook post’s text reads, overlaid on a picture of the two Democratic candidates along with several laughing emoji.

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