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With the first presidential debate complete and its spin cycle nearly over, the two understudies are getting ready to take the main stage. The vice presidential debate Tuesday will be the only time Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine will have the nation’s political attention all to themselves, away from their much more well-known running mates.
The stakes will be lower than the three presidential debates, but will give each largely undefined candidate a chance to make a mark on a national audience.
Running mates rarely overshadow the top of the ticket, although Sarah Palin caused a sensation as Republican John McCain’s pick in 2008. But voters always have a reason to size up the people who would be next in line for the presidency.
The 2016 candidates are older than the norm. Though their doctors said they are fit to serve, Hillary Clinton, who will be 69 before the election, has had several health problems in recent years while Donald Trump, 70, has for months held off disclosing much about his own fitness.
Pence, Trump’s running mate, is taking a decidedly un-Trump like approach to the vice presidential debate. He’s preparing for it.
The Indiana governor and former 12-year congressman held mock debate sessions with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a stand-in, studying up on issues likely to be raised and making sure he avoids the criticisms of being unprepared that dogged Trump after his uneven performance a week ago. “We’re going to do our level best to be ready,” Pence told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt this past week.
Pence was spending the weekend back home in Indianapolis, taking a break from campaign travel to be with his family and continue informal debate preparations, spokesman Marc Lotter said.
Clinton’s running mate, a former Virginia governor and current U.S. senator, spent several days preparing for the debate in Raleigh, North Carolina, and in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. The debate will take place at Longwood University, about an hour west of Richmond.
Helping Kaine is Washington, D.C., lawyer Robert Barnett, a veteran of prepping Democrats for debates. Kaine said he’s been “thinking hard” about what Pence’s record says “about the guy who chose him, because it really is more about Donald Trump than it is about Gov. Pence.”
Pence and Kaine are practiced public speakers with lengthy political careers who should bring a high level of polish to the undercard debate. Pence is a former talk radio host; Kaine a former Harvard-trained trial lawyer.
But both have played dramatically different roles since they were picked to be the No. 2s.
Pence has frequently been on the hot seat defending, deflecting and explaining some of his unconventional running mate’s more inflammatory comments and views. It’s made for some awkward moments, with Pence defending Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump’s apparent support for a policy of stop-and-frisk by police, and Trump’s feud with a Muslim-American family whose son, a U.S. Army captain, was killed while serving in Iraq in 2004.
After Monday’s presidential debate, Pence made the rounds on the television networks, where he broke with Trump on global warming. Trump has called warming a hoax, while Pence said after the debate that “there’s no question” human activity affects both the climate and the environment.
Kaine, by contrast, is much more in lockstep with Clinton and has rarely faced tough questions on a tightly managed campaign that’s so far been heavy with private glitzy fundraisers and lighter moments on TV. He’s no fire-eater. He’s called himself “boring,” a quality Clinton said she loves about him.
Some days Kaine’s toughest job is holding his own while jamming on harmonica with some world-class musical talents. That list so far includes Jon Batiste (“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” house band leader), Lindsey Buckingham (guitarist for Fleetwood Mac), Asleep at the Wheel (local country legends in Austin, Texas) and John Popper (frontman for Blues Traveler).
Recently, while Pence was defending a tweet from one of Trump’s son’s comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles, Kaine was in the middle of a California fundraising tour that included a dinner at actress Eva Longoria’s house and an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
After the first presidential debate, Kaine and Pence both claimed victory for their candidates and looked ahead to their showdown.
Speaking to volunteers in Orlando, Florida, Kaine said Clinton’s performance “raised the bar.”
“That puts pressure on me,” he joked.
On a TV appearance before flying to Wisconsin for two days of preparations with Walker, Pence said the same.
“Donald Trump raised the bar for his running mate,” Pence said.