Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) will face off in the next 2020 debate on October 7, with Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief for USA Today, moderating.
The debate will air live on ABC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox, NBC, and PBS Utah from 9 to 10:30 pm ET from the University of Utah’s Nancy Peery Marriott Auditorium in Salt Lake City, where there will be a small live audience of students. (That’s 8-9:30 pm CT, 7-8:30 pm MT, and 6-7:30 pm PT.) Debate organizers have secured the Cleveland Clinic as a health adviser to ensure that the debates can continue safely amid the pandemic.
Vice presidential debates haven’t historically attracted much fanfare, drawing much lower viewership than presidential debates. But Democrats are hoping that Harris — a former San Francisco district attorney who earned a reputation for being a strong debater during the Democratic primaries and who is known for her incisive style of questioning witnesses during congressional hearings — will go on the attack.
Her most notable debate performance during the primaries was when she criticized Biden, now her running mate, for opposing mandatory school busing during the 1970s, which she argued created an obstacle to desegregation efforts. Harris, as the most junior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also famously grilled Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings in 2018 regarding his stance on abortion and about whether he had inappropriately discussed the Mueller investigation with Trump’s personal attorney.
In preparation for the upcoming debate, Harris reportedly has been practicing with former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who has been playing the role of Pence in mock debates.
Pence, for his part, has enlisted the help of former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican who served at the same time that Pence was governor of Indiana, the Washington Post reported. Page, the moderator, hasn’t announced debate topics yet, but Pence, as the leader of the White House coronavirus task force, will likely be called on to answer for his role in failing to prevent the deaths of more than 200,000 Americans amid the pandemic. He recently told the public to “anticipate that cases will rise in the days ahead,” predicting another surge.
Pence has faced criticism over his handling of the pandemic even from within his own camp: Olivia Troye, his former top aide on the coronavirus task force, went so far as to endorse Biden publicly, joining the group Republican Voters Against Trump.
There are still two more presidential debates
There will also be two more presidential debates on October 15 and 22 in Miami, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee, respectively. C-SPAN editor Steve Scully will moderate the Miami debate, and NBC anchor Kristen Welker has been selected to do so in Tennessee.
With just weeks to go before the November 3 election, Biden remains ahead in the polls, besting Trump nationally by a margin of about 7 points on average, according to FiveThirtyEight. He also appears to be carrying a narrower lead in critical swing states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Arizona. At this point, it doesn’t seem like those polls will move significantly ahead of Election Day given that the biggest crises facing Americans — a pandemic that shows no sign of slowing down, an economic downturn, and a national reckoning over race — aren’t going away anytime soon.
It remains to be seen how much — or little — the Tuesday night debate and the three remaining shift those numbers.