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The VP Debate

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

I don't know if any debate between Vice Presidential candidates has ever moved the needle and, waiting for this one to begin, I doubt it will have any measurable effect, either.


Governor Mike Pence, the Republican from Indiana, was a Member of the U.S. House before he went home to run for, and be elected to, the Governor's office. He was first elected to the House in 2000 and rose to be the third highest ranking member in the GOP, Conference Chairman, in 2009.

Senator Tim Kaine the Democrat from Virginia went the other way. He served as Mayor of Richmond, as Lt. Governor, and then Governor of Virginia from 2006 - 2010. Virginia doesn't allow a Governor to succeed himself so he served the single term. In 2012 he successfully ran for the U.S. Senate where he currently serves.

Both men have sons serving in the United States Marine Corps.

The point of that exercise is to show that each has both legislative and executive experience. They are about the same age (Pence is 57. Kaine is 58.) The old saw about being "a heartbeat away from the Presidency" takes on additional meaning when, no matter who wins, their boss will be over 70 years old when they are sworn in.

As the debate began, it seemed to me that Sen. Kaine was more at-ease than Gov. Pence. Maybe because this is in Virginia and so, something of a home game, but out of the gate Pence seemed a bit tentative.

The Trump team apparently wanted Pence to represent the Thoughtful Wing of the Trump campaign. Even when throwing a rhetorical punch, Pence spoke as if soothing a baby into a nap.


Pence did a good job comparing Indiana's economic growth during his term as Governor against Kaine's term. If I were Kaine, I would have pointed out that most of his term was during the Great Recession so unemployment was on the rise everywhere. But, Pence had the advantage of serving as Governor during the recovery when unemployment fell everywhere.

Easy for me to say, sitting on the couch in my den.

The terms of the debate allowed - indeed promoted - cross-talk and interruptions. Kaine utilized the rule right from the get-go and, frankly, became annoying after a while. Pence found his legs and jumped into the fray after the first five or 10 minutes, but seemed to be responding to Kaine.

I thought they fought to a tie on taxes, including whether or not Donald Trump should have used the tax laws as he did in 1995. It descended into who will raise taxes more on whom and was hard to follow.

On law enforcement, both had good personal stories and agreed with one another that community policing is the path that state and local governments should follow.

They got into it on Hillary Clinton's statement that there is bias in policing. Pence said it was harmful to cops, Kaine said it was a problem that needed open discussion.

Kaine said it was a matter of respect and then used the discussion to recite a list of Trump's disrespectful statements against a wide variety of groups (Blacks, Hispanics, Women, etc.) that was very effective.


Pence's response was Clinton's "basket of deplorables" statement as an equivalent. Kaine said she apologized for it the next day, but that Donald Trump had never apologized for any of his statements.

On immigration they each overstated the position of the other in the best traditions of political debate.

Halfway Point: A lot of "he said, she said." It is abundantly evident that both candidates have done their homework, able to cite their positions in detail, compare it to what they believe the other's position to be, and use facts to bolster their cases.

But, whether on presentation or on facts, it seems to me that at this point in the debate Tim Kaine has carried the fight to Mike Pence. Kaine on offence. Pence on defense.

Here's the 2nd half kickoff.

On national security, Tim Kaine compared Clinton's activities in fighting terrorism, including the bin Laden raid, then said Donald Trump "can't start a Twitter war without shooting himself in the foot."

Pence's response was to ask Kaine, "Did you work a long time on that?" which sounded hollow and petty to me.

Then Pence pivoted to Clinton having failed to get a "Status of Forces Agreement" - known as a SOFA - which would have allowed U.S. military to remain in Iraq. Pence said that the lack of U.S. troops led to the rise of ISIS. That may be true, but it took a long time to make the point.

On the cybersecurity front, Kaine had a reasoned a complete answer, and Pence used it to go back to the private server that Hillary Clinton had in her basement.


Mike Pence's answer on Aleppo was more complete than anything Donald Trump would have been able to say even if he had a Teleprompter. Kaine used the Syrian issue to remind viewers that Trump has praised Vladimir Putin as being a better leader than we have in the United States.

Kaine attempted to shoehorn Trump's tax payment issue into 9/11. "Trump doesn't support the troops because he didn't play taxes." The Clinton campaign must have data that shows that plays well with undecideds but it sounded too pre-planned to me.

Kaine used a question about how to deal with Russia to drive home the difference between Hillary Clinton's foreign policy chops and Donald Trump's. Kaine talked about Trump apparently not having known the Russians had taken over Crimea and having had to fire Paul Manafort as campaign manager because of Manafort's long association with the Putin-supported Ukrainian leader.

Pence charged that the $400 million payment to the Iranians was a "ransom payment" as an example of the Administration's weakness in dealing with foreign powers.

During a discussion about North Korea's latest nuclear test, Pence circled around to the Clinton Foundation and the "pay to play" aspects of having foreigners meeting with the Secretary of State after having donated to the foundation.

Kaine responded by saying the State Department investigated those charges and found them baseless. He want on to say that Trump's sons said the Trump organization had done substantial business with Russia.


At least one of Trump's sons was not just in the audience, but in the front row.

Most of the last ten minutes of the debate was about religion which, of course, immediately ran to abortion. Pence accused Kaine and Clinton of favoring partial birth abortion. Kaine was just as adamant about Pence's desire to overturn Roe vs Wade.

Who won? I thought Kaine was far stronger from start to finish, but I can see how his constant interrupting might have gotten on everyone's nerves. Pence never seemed to be able to mount an offence and, a number of times, simply let statements by Kaine go unchallenged.

As I wrote in the beginning, Vice Presidential debates don't generally change votes, but I will be surprised if the pressure on Donald Trump doesn't mount for a really good performance on Sunday night after his campaign has gone oh-and-two in the first two debates.

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