Republican Elephant and the Democrat Donkey icons. The two vice presidential candidates, Kamala Harris and Mike Pence, debated on Sept. 29. DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR VIA CC BY-SA 2.0

Steven Keehner is a junior majoring in journalism and history.

After surviving the disaster that was the first Presidential debate, I wasn’t sure what to expect when Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence met in the only Vice President debate of the 2020 election cycle.

The stakes are significantly higher for the Vice President position this time around. The average life expectancy for an American male rounds to 79 years old. Regardless of who wins this November, either presidential candidate will be the oldest ever president of the United States by the end of their 2024 term. 

Even during the debate, Susan Page, the current Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today and moderator, brought up questions of potential succession. Speaking of Page, it was nice to see some control and respect of the agreed debate format

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That didn’t stop Pence from bullying his way through the night. He continuously attempted to verbally assert himself over both Harris and Page by flat out not answering most questions and going over his allocated time to speak on whatever he deemed necessary.

Still, it was easier to swallow than what happened last week.

Jumping around from COVID-19 to racial justice to health care, there were actual back-and-forth discussions between Harris and Pence along with other topics, but that’s a given for political debates.

While neither of the two did anything that we’ll be looking back at as a game changing moment for either campaign, the debate served its purpose of restating both candidates’ agendas to the American public.

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I would say that Harris looked stronger between the two. Pence seemed to pander to the current Trump voter base that won them the election in 2016 by using many of the buzzwords that make any populist look appealing to their fanbase. By reiterating Trump’s dedication to the American people and his booming economy that will create jobs, among other phrases, Pence was able to secure his reputation as America’s republican nominee for Vice Presidency. 

What struck as the most interesting takeaway from the night, aside from Pence not realizing there was a fly on his head for over two minutes, was the discussion on the potential admission of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

From concerns of Barrett being criticized for her faith, to Pence then suggesting that Biden and Harris would seek to increase the number of Supreme Court members if she was added as a Justice, this was Harris’ low point during the night. 

She not only averted the question entirely, but acted in a similar fashion to what happened during last week’s debate with Biden avoiding the question, too. Pence, who was ready to pounce immediately, looked great during that moment.

What really served as an interesting comment for me was seeing Harris speak upon America’s police. She explained that Biden would seek an abolishment of private prisons and cash bail. Legalized marijuana and expungement those convicted of weed-related crimes would also be on the cards.

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From someone who’s “smart on crime” policy was a complete sham, her Attorney General team fighting to keep low-risk people in prison to serve as a source of cheap labor, and her cruel handling of the Daniel Larsen case? You bet.

Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear that on such a prominent stage.

This doesn’t take away from Harris’ night. Notably, her “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking” comment was a powerful moment.

But even on policy, it seemed as if Harris was attempting to bring more voters onto her side. Her discussion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), where she made calls to those with pre-existing health issues and to those under 26, about what was at stake if the ACA was removed.

While it was disgusting to watch the 200,000+ who have died of COVID-19 serve as a political tool in both candidates’ debate points, it wasn’t a shocker.

But Harris pointed out that these failures of Trump’s administration were hard to deny as impactful, especially when there was a plexiglass barrier dividing both Pence and herself. It was an oddly symbolic reminder of just how not normal everything is right now.

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Harris looked alright and Pence simply reiterated Trump’s thoughts.

Despite this debate being a step forward, since it was literally impossible to go any further backwards, there are still a lot of questions we haven’t gotten answers to yet. Good thing Election Day is in less than a month.

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