Written By: Charlotte Mac Kay
On Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2020 running mates, Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), faced off in a largely televised debate, covering topics ranging from the nation’s COVID-19 response to the Affordable Care Act. The debate drew 57.9 million viewers, becoming the second most-watched vice-presidential debate in US history.
The vice-presidential face-off took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, and replaced the scheduled presidential one, in which President Trump and Vice President Biden were set to follow-up their Sept. 26 debate. However, the hospitalization of Trump from COVID-19 prevented his participation and the vice presidential candidates instead took the stage.
Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief, moderated the debate, which was in a modified format meant to limit interruptions and reframe questions more productively. “Americans … deserve a discussion that is civil,” she said, emphasizing the importance of respecting the other candidates and limiting disruptions, a decision made after backlash from Trump and Biden’s first debate.
Many topics were covered throughout the night. According to a breakdown from NBC News, the largest topic of discussion was Trump and his administration’s policies, totaling over 14 total minutes of talk time. The debate over COVID-19 policies and the economy, were close seconds at just under ten minutes and nearly eight minutes, respectively. Biden, the election, and the Supreme court were also extensively covered, with other topics such as China, health care, climate change and crime taking up a smaller but prevalent portion of the night. The largest social media takeaway from the night, however, was focused on a fly that landed on Pence’s head which shot to fame on social media, inspired a Twitter fandom, and sparked some SNL skits and memes.
The debate was live-streamed on most major news platforms, including ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and CNN, and was the second most-watched debate in U.S. history, following the 2008 Palen-Biden debate which brought in 70 million viewers. Highlights of the night included an intense discussion on the Trump administration’s handling of coronavirus.
“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said during the debate, “They knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you.” Pence responded strongly, saying that Trump “suspended all travel from China” and “That decision alone…. Bought us valuable time to set up the greatest national mobilization since World War II.”
Harris and Pence were each given one to two minutes to answer questions and as a whole, the debate had significantly fewer interruptions than occurred in the Trump-Biden face-off one week earlier. Other modifications included large plexiglass shields, put up as protection equipment against the potential spread of COVID-19.
This debate occurred a little under a month from the Nov. 3 presidential election. The next presidential debate, in which candidates Trump and Biden are set to face off in a modified debate format, will take place in Nashville, Tennessee on Oct. 22, following the cancellation of an expected Oct. 15 face-off, canceled due to COVID-19 and other concerns.