Harris or Pence: Who performed better in the first 2020 VP debate?


Fact Box

  • Kamala Harris and Mike Pence “faced off” in the only vice presidential election debate of 2020 on Wednesday, October 7. Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today was the moderator of the debate. 
  • In 2017, Kamala D. Harris was sworn in as a United States Senator for California, the second African-American woman and first South Asian-American senator in history. She serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on the Budget.
  • Mike Pence is the current vice president of the United States. Previously, he served in the House of Representatives for 13 years, and the governor of Indiana at the beginning of 2013. He has labeled himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” 
  • The event was a stark contrast between the first debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Wednesday’s debate was more “traditional.”

Andrew (Harris)

Kamala Harris won the vice presidential debate by showing that she was the adult in the room. Harris stayed within her time limits, answered directly, and withstood casual sexism. The ability to answer questions directly, stay within time limits, and maintain civility was critical for the candidates after the spectacle of the first presidential debate proved so unappealing to voters.

Harris also won on policy issues. She had a very memorable moment on healthcare, saying, 'If you have a pre-existing condition—heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer—they're coming for you [...] If you're under 26 and on your parents' coverage, they're coming for you.' Healthcare has proven to be an issue that many Americans have made a priority in the election, and Harris delivered on it. She also appeared tough on trade with China, where she pointed out the Trump administration's failed foreign policy and called out Vice President Pence on his insistence about the Biden Administration ending fracking.

If Harris's demeanor and command of the issues important to Americans weren't enough, polls taken after the event confirmed that Harris came out ahead. A CNN poll showed Harris was the preferred candidate for nearly 6-in-10 surveyed. Her favorability ratings also saw a rise after the event, moving from 56 to 63 percent. Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris managed to give a meaningful performance in an often overlooked debate. She appeared calm, in control, and delivered on issues voters are deeply concerned with, such as healthcare and the environment.


Elizabeth (Pence)

Twitter's eruption over #flygate and not Kamala Harris's anticipated take-down of Pence in the VP debate is a good sign Pence won the debate. The night's politeness played to Pence's strengths, as he seems to have a barely discernible personality. While Harris toned down her usual sarcasm and sliminess (like when she dismissed a question of her treatment of Biden by laughing 'it was a debate'), she couldn't stop herself from smirking, shaking her head, and rolling her eyes in response to Pence. While a small amount of that would have been effective, it played as pre-planned and undermined her on the debate stage. Likewise, her 'I'm speaking' would have been more highly effective had she not overused it.

Overall, Pence was clear in defending/defining Trumpian policies, while Harris deflected, blame-shifted, and lied in nearly every question (especially on fracking and the false claim Trump called COVID a hoax). While mostly civil, this debate did little more than last week's presidential debate to illuminate positions in that neither candidate was forthcoming in answering direct questions (like invoking the 25th amendment). One of the most telling obfuscations by Harris was refusing to answer whether she and Biden would pack the Supreme Court should they win—a crucial issue Pence was right to press her on.

The closing question from a Utah 8th-grader was a great example of the difference between the candidates. Pence efforts to retain humanity in a politically divisive time by drawing attention to the close friendship of the late justices Ginsberg and Scalia. On the other hand, Harris (rated the most liberal US Senator) retreated to another non-answer with platitudes about the future being bright.

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