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Opinion: Pence vs. Harris was a proper debate

Carla Bleiker
Carla Bleiker
October 8, 2020

The debate between the two candidates for US vice president was considerably more dignified than the first debate between the presidential candidates last week. DW's Carla Bleiker thinks the Democrat came off better.

Kamala Harris and Mike Pence in studio during the vice-presidential debate
Image: Brian Snyder/Reuters

What is certainly clear from the debate between US Vice President Mike Pence and California senator and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris is that both politicians were considerably more presidential than their running mates last week.

While US President Donald Trump and his Democrat rival Joe Biden interrupted and insulted each other constantly, Pence and Harris generally didn't and stuck to the facts. How refreshing to watch a real debate and not feel the need to turn off the television in frustration after just a few minutes.

Of course, everything was not ideal during this only debate between vice-presidential candidates, both of whom tended to regard the questions of their host Susan Page more as suggestions and occasions to praise their own position or criticize that of their opponent. Neither was inclined to answer direct questions.

DW Washington Correspondent Carla BleikerImage: privat

Read more: Trump refuses to attend virtual debate

But audience members will have been able to follow much of the discussion. When Pence did attempt to interrupt Harris, she answered calmly: "I'm speaking" and he piped down.

Harris will bring Democrats out to vote

Overall, Harris came across better. There were no star moments akin to those that she had when she ran against Joe Biden during the Democratic primaries, but she had some harsh words for the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

She also spoke proudly about her family history and was surely able to convince some potentially Democratic voters not to stay at home on polling day. The lack of enthusiasm for Joe Biden, another old white man, is a real danger for the Democrats, and Harris is well aware of this challenge. Many women of color, who have little interest in Biden, love her and she did not disappoint.

For his part, Pence was generally lackluster. He will have scored a few points with his insistence on asking whether Harris and Biden intend to expand the number of Supreme Court justices.

While Harris refused to answer that question directly, she scored a few points of her own by reminding him that Abraham Lincoln, one of the most-revered presidents in US history, had a chance of nominating a new Supreme Court justice 27 days before the 1864 election, but refused because polling day was so close. Trump's administration does not have such qualms and is doing everything to usher arch-conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett into the Supreme Court before election day. 

'Here in America, we can disagree'

Pence did have a chance to shine with his answer to a poignant question from an eighth grader to both candidates. "When I watch the news, all I see is two candidates from opposing parties try to tear each other down," she said. "If our leaders can't get along, how are our citizens supposed to get along?"

Read more: Opinion: A chaotic and depressing non-debate

In his answer, Pence referred to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late Supreme Court justice whom the Republicans are currently trying to replace so fast, and her colleague Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016. Pence said that despite being "polar opposites" on the Supreme Court the two had forged a close friendship.

"Here in America, we can disagree," he said. "We can debate vigorously as Senator Harris and I have on this stage tonight. But when the debate is over, we come together as Americans. And that's what people do, in big cities and small towns all across this country."

In reality, however, in the past four years, Pence and Donald Trump have done more to divide liberal and conservative Americans and stoke hatred than to bring them together.

Carla Bleiker
Carla Bleiker Editor, channel manager and reporter focusing on US politics and science@cbleiker