US Elections 2016

V-P debate offers lower voltage

 Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence (left) and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine.
Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence (left) and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine. PHOTOS: AFP

NEW YORK • Psst, there is another debate this week.

No, not between Mr Donald Trump and Mrs Hillary Clinton. They do not suit up in their gladiatorial armour again until next Sunday. This one is between their running mates, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana and Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. (It will be held from 9am to 10.30am Wednesday, Singapore time.)

Voters may be forgiven for barely knowing of it, or allotting it little space on their mental hard drives, because of the incendiary flashes tossed into the race daily from the top of the tickets, especially by Mr Trump.

The meeting of Mr Pence, a Republican, and Mr Kaine, a Democrat, two pensive and little-known nominees, might be the least anticipated vice-presidential debate in 40 years.

"You're essentially following Ali-Frazier a few days later with a nationally televised book club," said Mr Tucker Martin, a Republican strategist in Richmond, Virginia, about an hour from the campus of Longwood University where the vice-presidential debate will be held.

There are several reasons for the lack of excitement, which could rival previous low-interest debates like Al Gore versus Jack Kemp in 1996. That one drew the fewest television viewers, 26.6 million, of any match-up since the first vice-presidential debate in 1976.

 

The meeting of Mr Pence, a Republican, and Mr Kaine, a Democrat, two pensive and little-known nominees, might be the least anticipated vice-presidential debate in 40 years.

Neither of this year's vice-presidential candidates was a national figure at the time he was selected, unlike many past nominees. Neither has set off a media feeding frenzy like previous nominees such as Ms Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman on a major party ticket, in 1984, or Ms Sarah Palin, who became a lightning rod for critics in 2008.

Mr Pence and Mr Kaine are both white men in their late 50s, with solid governing resumes but little reputation beyond their home states. They were safe choices picked in part because they would not detract from the top of the ticket.

"I am boring," Mr Kaine said shortly before being selected.

Mr Pence introduced himself at the Republican National Convention "to those of you who don't know me, which is most of you".

On social media, voters have compared the looming debate to "watching paint dry" and "90 minutes of Mr Kaine and Mr Pence quizzing each other on dad-rock trivia".

Some strategists have said the debate should draw much more attention because both men are the understudies for candidates who, if elected, would be the oldest president ever to take office (Mr Trump) or the second oldest (Mrs Clinton).

Since the conventions in late July, neither Mr Pence nor Mr Kaine has returned to the headlines they received when they were selected. Google Trends shows that interest in the two vice-presidential candidates has flatlined at close to zero.

"Kaine-Pence will most likely produce a very substantive and policy-driven debate, so it's a real shame there isn't more interest," said Mr Martin. "But, hey, once you've reduced a presidential campaign to just another reality TV show, you reap what you sow."

The 2008 debate between Ms Palin and Mr Joe Biden was the most watched ever, seen by nearly 70 million viewers.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'V-P debate offers lower voltage'. Print Edition | Subscribe