No clear winner in US vice-presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence

Mr Tim Kaine (left), the 2016 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, speaking during his debate against Mr Mike Pence, his Republican counterpart.
Mr Tim Kaine (left), the 2016 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, speaking during his debate against Mr Mike Pence, his Republican counterpart.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

US vice-presidential nominees Mike Pence and Tim Kaine faced off in a testy debate on Tuesday (Oct 4) night that produced no clear winner.

As many had expected, the sole televised debate between the two mild-mannered experienced politicians focused more on the records of their larger-than-life running mates than on themselves; both Mr Kaine and Mr Pence focused predominantly on the faults of Mr Donald Trump and Mrs Hillary Clinton.

Indiana Governor Pence, given the unenviable task of undoing some of the damage done by Mr Trump's poor performance last week in the presidential debate, started the night stronger, and made the point of hitting many of the attack lines that his running mate had forgotten. 

He went after Mrs Clinton for the alleged connections between the donors to her foundation and her work as secretary of state, her use of a private e-mail server for official communications, her handling of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya and also her characterisation of half of Mr Trump's supporters as a basket of "deplorables". 


Republican Mike Pence (left) and Democrat Tim Kaine shake hands at the end of the only vice-presidential debate. PHOTO: EPA  

The former radio talk show host clearly put his media experience to good use and was obviously more calm and comfortable in the early part of the proceedings.

Mr Pence also clearly engaged in the sort of preparation that Mr Trump did not, and landed some well-received punches.

 
 
 
 
 

When the Democratic Party V-P nominee, Virginia Senator Kaine, launched a scripted assault on the choice between a "you're hired president in Hillary Clinton" or a "you're fired president in Donald Trump", Mr Pence retorted: "Well, first, let me say, I appreciated the "you're hired", "you're fired" thing, Senator. You use that a whole lot. And I think your running mate used a lot of pre-done lines."

Later, he slipped in a jab during a discussion about immigration about the likelihood of his opponent losing in November and returning to work in Congress.

"Senator, I'll work you when you go back to the Senate, I promise you, we'll work you to reform the immigration system," he said to some muted laughs from the audience who had been instructed to stay silent throughout the debate.

But while Mr Pence arguably won the style points, Mr Kaine landed many substantive hits - primarily in trying to force his rival to defend Mr Trump.

Mr Kaine used every opportunity to bring up Mr Trump's failure to release his tax returns, his insults against Mexicans and minorities and the shady dealings of the Trump foundation.

Mr Pence repeatedly declined to go down that path, either trying to flip the conversation into an attack on Mrs Clinton or to ignore it altogether. The few times he did venture to defend Mr Trump, he did so by denying Mr Trump's remarks and then presenting an argument that was at odds with the tycoon's stand.

As University of Denver political science professor Seth Masket wrote on election forecasting site FiveThirtyEight: "Pence happily and calmly defended a version of his running mate that doesn’t exist. In Pence’s telling, Trump would be tough on Putin, would never support prosecuting women for having abortions, uses his family charity solely for charitable purposes, etc. 

“And when called on these discrepancies, Pence simply said that Trump isn’t a polished candidate so sometimes says things he doesn’t mean."

 
 

It prompted Mr Kaine to point out that Mr Pence was actively steering clear of defending the billionaire. 

"Six times tonight I have said to Governor Pence, I cannot defend how you would defend your running mate's position," he said towards the end of the debate.

"And in all six cases, he has refused to defend. And yet, he is asking everybody to vote for somebody he cannot defend."

The one exchange that focused primarily on the positions of the V-P picks rather than the presidential nominees produced the strongest moment of the night. Both were asked about how they balanced their personal beliefs - Mr Kaine and Mr Pence are both devout Christians - with public policy. 

The segment produced a substantial debate about abortion policy that outlined clear difference in the positions of the two political parties.

While Mr Pence took a firm stance against abortion, Mr Kaine argued for a separation between personal beliefs and the government.

Said Mr Kaine: "Hillary and I are both from religious backgrounds. Her Methodist church experience was very informative for her as a public servant. We both feel you should live fully and with enthusiasm for your faith. But, let's talk about abortion and choice... We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience and make their own decision about pregnancy. 

“That is something we trust American women to do. And we don't think that women should be punished for making the decision to have an abortion." 

Ultimately, pundits largely agreed that both candidates will have left the stage with something to cheer about, but the impact on the polls is likely to be minimal.

Said University of Notre Dame Professor of American Studies Robert Schmuhl: "Were minds changed by the debate? Probably not. They defended themselves and their presidential candidates in articulate but predictable ways."