On Tuesday, October 4th, the Republican and Democratic vice presidential nominees will battle it out for the first and only scheduled debate between the two men before the election in November.
The debate comes just a little more than a week after the first presidential debate which was the most watched in history, and which has practically dominated the US political news landscape since. Conversely, interest in the debate between Democratic VP nominee Tim Kaine and Republican VP nominee Mike Pence is relatively low.
Both supporting candidates have been regarded as relatively safe choices for the two presidential nominees. Hillary Clinton chose Tim Kaine, the Senator from Virginia, for his affability and resume, shoring up their ticket as the most experienced two candidates running for the White House in modern memory. Donald Trump selected Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, as an olive branch concession to the religious and socially conservative voting base of the Republican Party.
Neither Kaine nor Pence have been able to attract attention and headlines quite like their counterparts, which seems to be mostly by design. For both VP candidates, Tuesday night will likely be their biggest primetime moment of the entire campaign. Here are a few things to watch for:
Tim Kaine will want you to like him
Since he moved into the national spotlight as Clinton’s pick as VP, Tim Kaine has been seen and photographed more often than not with a broad smile and rosy cheeks. His main agenda will be to advertise Hillary Clinton and the Democratic platform in a manner that may attract voters who are off-put by the main candidate.
If I talk too much about Tim Kaine during my debate, I’m wasting my time. - Tim Kaine
The challenge for Kaine will be to put Pence against the ropes defending Trump’s more controversial actions and statements without seeming as too much the aggressor. In the past, audiences have reacted positively to Kaine’s debate performances. One former opponent hints at why:
He’s absolutely going to come off as believable with everything he says. He says everything with such sincerity. - Republican Jerry Kilgore, debated Kaine in his run for Governor of Virginia in 2005
Mike Pence will want to rewrite the narrative
As it stands, the attention surrounding the US presidential election currently centers on some not-so-positive stories surrounding Donald Trump: his erratic performance at the first debate, the revelation of his tax history, and his embittered squabble with a former Miss Universe pageant winner.
Therefore, Pence has a more difficult task than Kaine going into the debate, as he will need to defend, diffuse and dispose of these topics as quickly and effectively as possible, so that the conversation doesn’t become mired in questions concerning Trump’s temperament.
If Trump has been criticized for seeming unprepared at the first debate, Pence, by all accounts, should present a marked contrast – he has reportedly been preparing for the debate since before Labor Day. His dedicated work will be rewarded if he is able to address Trump’s quagmires as harmless showboating from a former entertainer before pivoting towards a more levelheaded presentation of the Republican platform while simultaneously focusing attention on Clinton’s weaker points.
If Pence is able to present a calm performance that deftly tackles the issues, he may quell the fears of voters on the fence about a Trump presidency.
Tim Kaine will speak Spanish and bring up his son
Chief among the reasons Tim Kaine was selected as Clinton’s VP are his abilities to reach out to Latino and military voters. Tim Kaine made history when he gave an entire speech in Spanish on the floor of the U.S. Senate back in 2013. He became fluent in Spanish after living and volunteering for a year in Honduras in 1980. On the campaign trail, Kaine has directed crowds to chant in Spanish, “ready for Hillary.” Debate viewers should expect he will find an opportunity to showcase his fluency Tuesday night.
Kaine also has a twenty-six-year-old son, Nat, who is actively serving in the Marines, making Kaine one of only a few members of Congress with a child serving in the military. Kaine began his DNC address speaking about his son’s service, and will undoubtedly reference Nat during the debate in an attempt at solidarity with military families across the nation.
Kaine has also gained attention throughout his political career as an adept harmonica player, though it is unlikely he will find a choice moment to display this talent during the debate.
Mike Pence will speak directly to Christians
Loyal Trump supporters believe the businessman’s wealth is evidence enough of his economic acumen. It is the Republican voters who hold socially conservative values that Trump has had trouble attracting.
Mike Pence is a career-long pro-life politician with a firm rooting in the Christian community. He will be making a strong bid to secure a much-needed Republican voter base that selects their candidate in line with religious teachings. It’s likely Pence will at some point turn the conversation towards religious conviction.
Tim Kaine is a Catholic who has said he is personally opposed to abortion, but does not believe it should be outlawed. While he supports a woman’s right to choose, he believes politicians should attempt to limit abortions by providing abstinence-education and women’s access to health-care. Pence will likely try to tangle Kaine in the debate while standing definitively behind his pro-life convictions.
Smaller audience, smaller impact
Analysts project a much smaller audience for the VP debate, and past studies show that the vice presidential debate typically has the ability to shift polls by 1% in either direction. Nevertheless, it will be an important opportunity for Americans to familiarize themselves with the vice presidential nominees and their party platforms.
More importantly, it’s an opportunity for the relatively unknown vice presidential nominees to give their party ticket a refreshing boost as the nation nears election day.
The debate airs live on Tuesday, Oct. 4th at 9 PM ET. CBS News anchor Elaine Quijano will moderate from Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.