Vice-presidential debates usually slip by fairly unnoticed, with viewership figures falling steadily in the years since 2008’s clash between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.
But with Donald Trump’s coronavirus battle casting doubt over whether the second presidential debate will go ahead, all eyes were last night on the head-to-head clash between Republican Vice-President Mike Pence and his Democratic rival California Senator Kamala Harris.
After a bruising debate between Trump and Biden last week, this standoff was touted as the only “sensible conversation we get to watch the two parties have in this year’s presidential contest”, The Ringer says.
So how did the two fare? And, with just 26 days to go until election day, who came out on top?
What was discussed?
Despite predictions that the debate would be a courteous affair, the evening saw some testy exchanges.
In a series of what the BBC calls “heated clashes”, Harris accused Trump and Pence of “the greatest failure of any presidential administration” in history, adding that the current administration deliberately mislead Americans over the threat of the virus.
“They knew, and they covered it up,” she said, referring to reports by Watergate journalist Bob Woodward that Trump deliberately downplayed the severity of the pandemic. “Frankly, this administration has forfeited their right to re-election based on this,” she added.
Pence, in response, accused the Democratic ticket of “plagiarism” over their strategy for tackling the pandemic, adding that the Democrats were “undermin[ing] public confidence in a vaccine if the vaccine emerges during the Trump administration”.
On the economy, the vice-president pledged that 2021 would be “the biggest economic year in the history of this country”, claiming that Biden plans to “raise your taxes and bury the economy”. Harris stepped in to clarify that Biden will not increase taxes on those earning less than $400,000 (£309,600) a year.
On climate change, Pence acknowledged that “the climate is changing”, but said the Democrats would “crush American energy” and “abolish fossil fuels”. Harris called climate change an “existential threat” to the planet.
When discussing racial inequality, Pence expressed dismay at the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota in May, but added that there was “no excuse for the rioting and looting that followed”.
He added that the suggestion the US is systemically racist and that law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities is a “great insult”.
Harris responded: “Last week the president of the United States took the debate stage in front of 70 million Americans and refused to condemn white supremacists.”
Pundits are torn over who claimed the win in Utah, with many sitting on the fence and calling it a dead heat.
BBC America reporter Anthony Zurcher said there was “no standout winner” but added that the “Democrats will be happy” with Harris’ performance.
“Both candidates had strong moments, and a few stumbles, over the course of the 90-minute affair,” he said. “But as far as lasting memories go, they were few and far between,” Zurcher writes.
“An unmemorable result, in and of itself, is good news for the Democrats and Joe Biden, who polls suggest are leading in the race,” he added.
Harris “clearly won the debate in terms of providing policy and detail and actually answering the questions”, according to The Independent’s Holly Baxter. The Times agrees, saying that “if Democrats were looking for evidence that Harris might one day be able to campaign at the top of a presidential ticket, she gave it to them”.
“Pence entered with a tougher task than Ms Harris and it showed,” the paper adds. However, he succeeded in offering “Trumpism with a more conventional political style”.
Joe Biden offered a more measured response, writing on Twitter that Harris “made us all proud tonight” and sharing a photo of himself holding a fly swatter, a reference to an insect that landed on Pence’s head during the event.