WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris are expected to lead the debate Wednesday night against an exceptional backdrop that has raised the stake of an event that has been a routine and trivial part of the presidential election for decades.
No Vice President has discussed while it is known that the President is ill and may still be in hospital. And never have two vice presidential candidates debated at a time when Americans are thinking far more than fleetingly about how each could lead in the top position.
“Vice-presidential debates often get a lot of attention at the moment and are then forgotten a few days later,”
The limelight on the debate in Salt Lake City had already intensified after President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden showed chaos in their first debate last week and the country struggled with a global pandemic and a collapsing economy.
In particular, the President’s allies wanted Pence to make up for this 27 days before the election.
“He has to do a very solid job and find a way to win,” said an ally.
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A national poll published by NBC News / Wall Street Journal on Sunday found that Biden’s lead over the president rose to 14 points after the debate and that voters 2-1 said Biden outperformed Trump.
In the weeks before Trump tested positive for coronavirus and admitted to hospital, Pence and Harris had spent hours preparing for their debate – thinking about policy briefing books, finding answers to anticipated attacks, and long mock sessions to hold.
Both spent time over the weekend preparing for Wednesday’s debate, which was due to take place in person. Harris was in Salt Lake City on Friday, while Pence, who was in Washington, is expected to travel to Utah on Monday.
You will be seated 12 feet apart, so three people familiar with the planning and not the original 7 feet apart.
Pence and Harris advisors said the president’s health did not materially alter their well-prepared approaches to the debate, but it did force them to rethink their tones.
For Harris, this means criticizing Trump’s handling of the pandemic in a way that is sensitive to his fight against the virus itself.
And Pence is now entering the debate to defend Trump’s repeated downplaying of the pandemic – and disregard for public health recommendations – while Trump and a growing number of other Republicans are sick after following the White House leadership.
Sound had already been a focus for Pence and Harris’ teams. Candidates had practiced how to avoid what each side sees as potential racial and gender pitfalls, both of which will inherently be part of the debate.
Harris is the only colored woman or person on both tickets.
Pence’s preparations included practicing ways to defeat Harris without opening up to criticism that he was being disrespectful or sexist. People familiar with the preparations said that there is an emphasis on the importance of a respectful tone. Or, as one ally put it, Pence is advised “not to attack a woman”.
Efforts have also been made to confuse Pence’s debate team. Most of the main actors in his inner circle are white men. Trump allies have suggested involving others in the prep, like Pam Bondi, who knew Harris from the six years they both served as attorneys general, Bondi in Florida and Harris in California.
Some of Trump’s advisors felt that Bondi would be better suited to playing Harris in mock sessions than former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who was involved, and Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., While preparing for the Pence Debate Played in 2016 People familiar with the discussions didn’t know if Bondi had joined the team, and she and Pence’s office didn’t respond.
Harris’ preparations have considered how to forcefully take action against Trump and Pence without inciting potential stereotypes about gender and race. Her allies have advised her to take that line despite the fact that Harris is familiar with the dynamics, ran for national office, and was a candidate for president.
Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, has advised Harris to be “firm and effective” in her rebuttals, but “to do so in a way that does not terrify or alienate voters”.
The debate will be moderated by a woman – Susan Page, the head of the Washington office for USA Today – who at least Harris allies said cannot do any harm.
Pence’s aides have tried to keep details of his preparations secret and have directed outside allies not to discuss them with the media. Pence told Trump supporters on Thursday that he intended to “put the fight on the Biden-Harris agenda”. This includes trying to define Harris as a force pulling Biden to the left of the Democratic Party.
Harris has prepared to focus on Trump and see Pence as an accomplice in his boss’s injustice, according to those familiar with the matter.
“This debate is about Donald Trump. This debate is not about Mike Pence,” said one person familiar with their preparations. “He’s part of Donald Trump’s failure.”
And a Harris ally said she could claim even a member of the vice president’s own team agrees, as former Pence adviser Olivia Troye has spoken out against Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.
Harris’ advisors expect good debate from Pence. They see him as an effective debater who says he beat Kaine in 2016. They also view Pence’s sympathetic behavior with the same keel as one of Harris’ challenges, as his delivery makes it harder to counter statements that they claim are untruths.
“We are preparing to debate someone who will lie but lie with a smile,” said the person familiar with their preparations, adding that Harris will try to offset criticism of Trump’s record and set out what one is Biden Presidency would do.
Pence has held several debates, some of which stretched for hours. Most of Harris’ preparations took place in their Washington offices. She uses index cards and some of her allies play pence in mock sessions, including former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, according to someone familiar with the matter.
Both campaigns assume that after the Trump-Biden debate, more Americans could be watching a vice presidential debate to find out what each candidate’s agenda actually is. They also expect Wednesday’s debate to be far less controversial than the one between Biden and Trump.
Pence and Harris will take the same approach to the debate as Trump and Biden, with plans to go on campaign on Thursday. The Trump campaign announced that Pence would hold events in several states. Harris is said to be fighting with Biden in Arizona.