By Susan Crabtree – RCP Staff
The stakes couldn’t be much higher for Mike Pence heading into his first and only face-off with Kamala Harris.
Last week’s presidential debate was an unruly slugfest from start to finish, with President Trump getting most of the blame for the constant interruptions and belligerent tone. With the president sidelined from the campaign trail, Pence now has to demonstrate a far calmer and rational side of the administration – to look eminently presidential should Trump’s COVID case somehow take a turn for the worse in the days and weeks ahead. And Pence – reserved by temperament — has to pull this off while still scoring enough points to avoid appearing weak.
With Joe Biden and Harris expanding their lead in RealClearPolitics’ national polling average and in battleground polls, the pressure is on the vice president to change the trajectory – and it may be the campaign’s last big chance to do so. It’s the only VP debate, and Biden on Tuesday said he wouldn’t participate in a second presidential debate, scheduled for next week, if Trump remains positive for the virus. The third and final face-off, set for Oct. 22, also hangs in the balance if either the president or Biden decides to back out out.
Late in the 2012 campaign, Biden succeeded in besting Paul Ryan to turn things around after President Obama turned in a less-than-stellar first debate performance against Mitt Romney. The same was true eight years earlier when Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly smacked down John Edwards and helped provide the course correction George W. Bush’s reelection campaign needed.
“The last two incumbent presidents relied on sitting VPs to show up and trounce the competition after a lackluster first debate,” Republican commentator Scott Jennings said in a tweet Tuesday. “Can Mike Pence make it three in a row?”