The first and only vice-presidential debate of 2020 was held at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 4. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, faced off against Republican Vice President Mike Pence to answer questions posed by the moderator, USA TODAY’s Susan Page. The questions touched on topics ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to race relations, climate change and plans for economic growth. The shadow of President Trump’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis loomed over the debate and placed importance on the positions of the vice-presidential candidates.
Compared to the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, the vice-presidential debate was relatively civil with fewer interruptions, insults and personal attacks. Still, it was not without its issues. Page was unable to keep both candidates from speaking over their limits, and both candidates frequently avoided giving direct answers to questions. Harris avoided answering whether Biden would add seats to the U.S. Supreme Court and Pence would not say whether he wanted his home state of Indiana to ban all abortions if Roe v. Wade was to be overturned.
Although both candidates were respectful, they were combative. Harris had to repeatedly defend herself against Pence’s attempts to interrupt her. When Pence interrupted Harris within the first ten minutes of the debate, Harris said, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking” before she could finish her point. There were also repeated attacks on the validity of the claims both candidates made. One of Pence’s more notable lines was when he said to Harris, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”
Vice President Pence also rode on the strength of the Trump Administration’s pre-pandemic economy while casting his opponent as a vote for radical-leftist politics and economic ruin. Pence tied Harris to the Green New Deal, a pro-environment fiscal plan authored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY. Regarding Biden’s green economic plan, Pence said that it is, “...a $2 trillion version of the Green New Deal… More taxes, more regulation, banning fracking, abolishing fossil fuel, crushing American energy and economic surrender to China is a prescription for economic decline.” Harris was quick to distance Biden and herself from any ban on fracking in response. “Alright, so first of all, I will repeat, and the American people know, that Joe Biden will not ban fracking. That is a fact,” said Harris.
Harris also used Trump’s handling of the pandemic to spearhead an attack against his record while simultaneously working to build up Biden’s character. Page started the debate by asking Pence, “Why is the U.S. death toll, as a percentage of our population, higher than that of almost every other wealthy country?” After Pence fielded the question, Harris responded, “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country… 210,000 dead people in our country in just the last several months… One in five businesses closed.” Pence’s defense was to say that President Trump has done the best he could and promised that a coronavirus vaccine would be available within the year.
Though the debate was civil, most political analysts agreed the impact on the presidential election was minimal. Maggie Haberman, White House Correspondent for the New York Times said, “At (the) end of the day I can’t see this changing much.”
As far as the public’s response and social media were concerned, the most captivating part of the night was a fly that landed on Pence’s head and remained there for two minutes. According to a study conducted by NYU, the fly received more mentions on Twitter than any of the candidates, both presidential and vice-presidential. The Biden campaign even started the fundraiser “Truth over flies” inspired by the fly. Blue fly swatters featuring the Biden-Harris campaign logo sold out overnight, and the campaign also created a link called flywillvote.comwhich linked to a voter registration website.Amid the chaotic nature of this election, the vice presidential debate felt like a return to classic politics.