Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., went head to head Oct. 7 in the one and only vice presidential debate before the Nov. 3, general election. It was lackluster compared to the volatile Presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden Sept. 29, 2020, where Trump’s rambunctious performance upended the so-called debate.
Sen. Kamala Harris, the first Indian-American to ever be nominated on a Presidential ticket, had more to prove and less to prove it with in terms of never having held a national office during her career in California.
But as Attorney General of a state which is considered the equivalent of the fifth largest economy in the world, Harris made a brave attempt to use her background to counter the talking points Pence made which at every turn, were mainly a repeat of those voiced by President Donald Trump.
Harris did take an opportunity to mention her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, but interestingly did not mention her name or her Indian heritage. Instead she went quickly on to say that she was the second ‘black’ woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate.
“Harris is skillfully bringing in her mother here, but no mention of her mother being from India. And she just described herself as a Black woman. She has played up her Indian side more recently but not tonight,” commented Apoorva Mandavilli, a science and health reporter with the New York Times, in the panel that commented simultaneously on the vice presidential debate.
The 90-minute debate, was split into nine 10-minute segments, and covered a lot of ground without much to show for it.
It covered subjects ranging from the coronavirus, to racism, President Trump’s nomination of conservative Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court justice; climate change; transparency about Trump’s health; whether he would accept the result of the election were he defeated; the economic recovery; policy toward China; abortion rights; recent police violence against black people, and Obamacare.
Both candidates appear to have stuck to the script they were told to follow – Pence insisting that Trump had turned the economy around, brought jobs back home, cut taxes, renegotiated trade deals, and stood up to China, walked out of the Paris Climate Change agreement, all for putting the American people first.
There were a few sparks. When Pence spoke about trusting and respecting the American people, Harris shot back, “You respect the American people when you tell them the truth,” and at another time, reprimanded the Vice President saying, “I will not be lectured.”
Following the debate, Biden tweeted, “@KamalaHarris, you made us all proud tonight.”
And President Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence WON BIG!”
Harris also made some scathing criticism about the Trump administration trying to abolish Obamacare in the Supreme Court, pointing at Pence and saying, “They’re coming for you” if you have cancer or diabetes, if you have a pre-existing condition and if you are on your parents’ health plan under the age of 26.
Harris tactics revolved around critiquing the disastrous situation currently engulfing the nation with 210,000 fatalities, slamming Trump as the worst leader, and the administration unable to handle the crisis, all the while projecting Joe Biden as the man of the hour who would bring about change and get a handle on the coronavirus pandemic.
South Asians for Biden Tweeted, “We are excited for Senator @KamalaHarris to take tonight’s debate stage as the first Black and South Asian woman nominated as VP. As the daughter of immigrants, #SheRose to become a District Attorney, CA Attorney General, US Senator, and will be the Vice President. #AAPISheRose”
Meanwhile, Republicans on Twitter contended Harris did not answer questions or prevaricated. And California attorney Harmeet Dhillon, the National Committeewoman of the Republican National Committee for California tweeted, “Her constant hand gestures are meant to distract from the lack of substance.”
Most talking heads contended the debate would not move the needle in terms of votes. Biden is currently leading Trump in most states, including some of the battleground states like Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona.
According to a CNN poll following the debate, 59 percent said Harris won and 38 percent gave it to Pence. Among women, the poll showed 69 percent felt Harris won, and 30 percent believed Pence won. Among male respondents, it was almost an even split, with 48 percent giving it to Harris and 46 percent to Pence.
The debate took place in Salt Lake City, in the shadow of a President, the First Lady, and numerous top White House staffers being diagnosed with COVID-19 just days after the first presidential debate.
While Trump and Biden were 7 feet apart on stage, Pence and Harris were situated 12 feet apart with plexiglass separating them.
The next Presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, but it is not clear if it will move forward. it will move forward given the president’s illness. The Commission on Presidential Debates may decide to hold that debate remotely, according to Twitter posts. The third Trump-Biden confrontation is scheduled for Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.