During this election year, nothing has been predictable. From the global coronavirus pandemic, to the ongoing racial tensions, to the presidential candidates themselves, so much has happened in such a short amount of time, but there is oftentimes a forgotten element that needs to be asked. Can vice presidential candidates matter, and will the upcoming debate between the vice presidential candidates sway voters one way or another?
To answer both questions, yes. Most of the country can agree that the first presidential debate on Tuesday, September 29th, was an absolute train wreck. Both candidates were interrupting each other the majority of the night, and showed a lack of respect towards one another, and in turn, the moderator Chris Wallace was unable to rein the candidates in. Because of that disastrous debate, new rules have been introduced in future presidential/vice presidential debates, which is allowing the moderator to cut the candidates’ microphone if needed. However, stunning new revelations could potentially change the outcome of the presidential and vice-presidential races. President Trump revealed that he and his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, were diagnosed with COVID-19. This could potentially hurt the outcome of the race, especially for Trump, because for many months, he has tried to downplay the severity of the virus, spreading theories about the virus and most recently, mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask on the debate stage. Trump’s diagnosis could also spell trouble for him, not only because he is high risk, but because he was unknowingly a super spreader of the virus, attending rallies and other events with various individuals right before his diagnosis. Unfortunately, it has also spread to political figures close to him, such as former counselor Kellyanne Conway and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. However, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Vice President Pence have all tested negative to the virus, and such, the vice presidential debate is still scheduled to go on (for Wednesday, October 7th), unless Trump’s health takes a turn for the worse, meaning Pence may have to take over as President temporarily. Since Trump’s diagnosis, the Biden campaign requested that Pence and Harris sit 12 feet apart instead of 7, making safety a priority in the upcoming vice presidential debate, and potentially changing the outcome of the race.
Pence and Harris could not be any more different than each other. Pence, former governor of Indiana and evangelical Christian, has been outspoken within the conservative movement, especially in regards to abortion rights and freedom of religion. Pence is also a Trump loyalist, meaning that he is supportive of the President and his base, and will try to defend President Trump’s agenda to the nation on Wednesday. Harris, a former prosecutor and current Senator from California, is well known for supporting left wing causes, such as abortion rights and LGBTQ rights. Harris has played a key part of the Biden campaign, because unlike Pence, she represents a new demographic electorate in the United States (which typically tends to lean Democratic). A multiracial female candidate (with an Indian and African American background), she (arguably) is a representation of future of American politics, as minorities and women increase their stature and population within the American political system. Pence, on the other hand, represents the “old” demographic electorate, representing a shrinking white electorate and is also a male, which has historically been king within the American political system. Harris has also united a fractured Democratic Party behind a more moderate Joe Biden, showing progressives that he is the right candidate for them, promising to bring some of their policy ideas to light. However, it is important to note that identity politics are not everything. The majority of Americans have made up their minds of who they want to vote for, but it is worth noting that both Pence and Harris have had debate experience, with Pence showing his skills in the vice presidential debate in 2016, and Harris showing her courtroom skills on the debate floor when she attempted to become the Democratic nominee for the 2020 election cycle. Yet, most Americans (51%) believe Harris is a better debater than Pence (26%), so Wednesday’s debate could determine if that opinion stays the same or if it shifts. But it is important to note that the importance of the vice presidency has elevated in recent years.
The vice presidency was historically an unimportant position in American politics, not having much communication with the president, and only needed in an emergency or in times of crisis. However, in the 1970’s, things changed, when President Jimmy Carter gave Vice President Walter Mondale a plethora of responsibilities within the executive branch, proving that the vice president can be an important advisor to the president, helping him make decisions to benefit the country. Nonetheless, its importance is arguably greater in 2020, not only with the responsibilities they have now, but as a crucial part of the 2020 electoral cycle. Age concerns are a big drawback in the 2020 election cycle, as Trump and Biden are well into their seventies, with Trump being 74 years old and Biden being 77 years old, meaning they are less likely to complete a full term than younger candidates. If that is the case, Pence, at 61 years old, and Harris, at 55 years old, are more likely to carry out a presidential term than not. Those concerns have been exasperated with Trump’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis, as their ages put them at high risk. Now, it is more important than ever that Pence and Harris know the duty of the office, and Wednesday’s debate is a chance to prove that by defending their respective presidential candidates, and using their skills to potentially sway the election one way or another.