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Pence-Harris debate to unfold as Trump recovers from virus

Kamala Harris (left) and Mike Pence, Photo Date: 4/27/19

Vice President Mike Pence and his Democratic challenger, California Sen. Kamala Harris, are set to face off in a debate that'll offer starkly different visions for a country confronting escalating crises.

Posted: Oct 7, 2020 9:27 AM
Updated: Oct 8, 2020 4:31 PM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence and his Democratic challenger, California Sen. Kamala Harris, are set to face off in a debate that will offer starkly different visions for a country confronting escalating crises.

The debate Wednesday night in Salt Lake City is the most highly anticipated vice presidential debate in recent memory. It will unfold while President Donald Trump recovers at the White House after testing positive last week for the coronavirus and spending several days in the hospital, a serious setback for his campaign that adds pressure on Pence to defend the administration's handling of the pandemic.

For Harris, the debate is her highest profile opportunity to say how Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would stabilize the United States, especially when it comes to the pandemic and racial injustice. She will have the chance to explain her views on law enforcement, an area in which she's viewed warily by some progressives, given her past as a prosecutor.

Ultimately, the debate is a chance for voters to decide whether Pence and Harris are in a position to step into the presidency at a moment's notice. It's hardly a theoretical question: The 74-year-old Trump is fighting the virus and Biden, at 77, would become the oldest person elected president.

Pence's debate strategy aims to highlight the administration's economic record and attempt to portray the Democratic ticket as beholden to “radical left,” said former GOP Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who is helping the vice president prepare for the debate, on “Fox & Friends.”

While the debate will likely cover a range of topics, the virus will be at the forefront.

Pence and Harris will appear on stage exactly 12.25 feet (3.7 meters) apart separated by plexiglass barriers. Anyone in the small audience who refuses to wear a mask will be asked to leave.

Pence was with Trump and others last week who have since tested positive, and the vice president has faced questions about whether he should be at the debate at all. Pence has repeatedly tested negative for the virus, and his staff and doctors insist he does not need to quarantine under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

The CDC defines risky “close contact” as being within 6 feet (1.8 meters) of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from two days before the onset of symptoms or a positive test.

Pence's team objected to Harris’ request for plexiglass barriers, arguing it was medically unnecessary. But the Commission on Presidential Debates had already agreed to the barriers, and Pence’s aides said their presence would not dissuade him from attending the event.

Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, said there is “zero risk” of the vice president pulling out of the debate over the plexiglass spat. He said Pence “will be there” because it’s “too important for the American people.”

Sabrina Singh, a spokesperson for Harris, said the senator "will be at the debate, respecting the protections that the Cleveland Clinic has put in place to promote safety for all concerned.” The Cleveland Clinic serves as a health adviser to the commission.

The debate is unlikely to be a repeat of the chaotic debate between Trump and Biden last week.

Pence is eager to seize on the Democrats' liberal policies, but it may be difficult to shift the conversation away from the Republican administration's uneven handling of the pandemic. Pence serves as chair of the president's coronavirus task force, which has failed to implement a comprehensive national strategy even as Trump himself recovers from the disease and the national death toll surges past 210,000 with no clear end in sight.

Biden has raised questions about whether he will participate in his next scheduled debate with Trump, telling reporters on Tuesday: “I think if he still has COVID, then we shouldn’t have a debate.”

The vice president is a 61-year-old former Indiana governor and ex-radio host, an evangelical Christian known for his folksy charm and unwavering loyalty to Trump.

Harris is a 55-year-old California senator, the daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother. She is also a former prosecutor whose pointed questioning of Trump's appointees and court nominees and cool charm on the campaign trail made her a Democratic star.

She will make history as the first Black woman to appear in a vice presidential debate. Democrats hope the historic nature of her candidacy will help energize key groups of likely Democratic voters — African Americans and young people, in particular — who have shown less excitement for Biden.

It's unclear how aggressive the candidates will be with each other.

Both have adopted a cautious approach on the trail, keeping in line with past running mates who, above all, are tasked with not hurting their party's ticket.

Some Harris allies fear that a conservative approach will prevent her from shining.

“Overly scripting Kamala Harris is tantamount to removing five bullets out of her gun before you walk into a gun fight,” said Nathan Barankin, who served as Harris' chief of staff in the Senate and when she was California attorney general.

While some Democrats have set high expectations for the debate, Harris and her allies have been trying to keep them low. Last month, when California’s state Senate president told Harris on a Zoom call that home state fans were excited to watch her debate, Harris quickly interjected.

“He’s a good debater,” she said, laughing. “I’m just, I’m so concerned, like I can only disappoint.”

Gender will likely play a role in the debate, Hillary Clinton, the first woman to lead a presidential ticket, said during a recent fundraiser.

She suggested Pence would try to paint Harris as “the inexperienced woman candidate." Harris will have to be mindful of the double standard for women in politics as she responds, Clinton said.

“She’s got to be firm and effective in rebutting any implication that comes from the other side, but to do it in a way that doesn’t, you know, scare or alienate voters,” Clinton said.

Harris has been preparing for the debate in Salt Lake City since Saturday. Karen Dunn, a Washington lawyer who helped prepare Clinton for her 2016 debates against Trump, is leading Harris’ debate preparations.

Harris plans to focus on failures of leadership by the Trump-Pence administration but avoid personal attacks against Trump, as Biden has done since the president was hospitalized for the virus, according to a campaign aide who wasn’t authorized to discuss debate planning publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pence has spent the last four years defending the president on a near-daily basis and mastered the art of turning Trump's chaotic rhetoric into more palatable, middle-of-the-road commentary.

Aides note that Pence’s criticism has focused almost exclusively on Biden and his record instead of Harris. It's likely to stay that way Wednesday.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 156868

Reported Deaths: 3851
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10409104
Hinds10279202
Harrison7313112
Jackson6566128
Rankin5887106
Lee529496
Madison5014107
Forrest389786
Jones369088
Lauderdale3594147
Lafayette338253
Washington3246108
Lamar297850
Oktibbeha252362
Lowndes247064
Bolivar244384
Panola232653
Neshoba2249121
Marshall222851
Leflore208591
Monroe206778
Pontotoc204231
Lincoln197366
Sunflower192655
Warren180258
Tate177751
Union171926
Copiah167940
Pike165359
Yazoo160140
Scott159430
Itawamba157635
Alcorn155628
Pearl River155368
Coahoma152743
Simpson152653
Prentiss151331
Adams144752
Grenada143345
Leake139744
Holmes133461
Covington128639
Tippah128430
George128325
Winston125526
Hancock124341
Wayne121323
Marion119446
Attala119334
Tishomingo112443
Chickasaw109432
Newton108229
Tallahatchie98127
Clay94727
Clarke93653
Jasper85223
Stone80615
Calhoun78713
Walthall77629
Montgomery76926
Carroll74115
Lawrence73814
Smith73216
Yalobusha73128
Noxubee72717
Perry68326
Tunica62619
Greene61522
Jefferson Davis59017
Claiborne58916
Amite56615
Humphreys54719
Benton50018
Quitman5007
Webster46714
Kemper45018
Wilkinson40522
Jefferson37112
Choctaw3617
Franklin3555
Sharkey32417
Issaquena1204
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 252900

Reported Deaths: 3638
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson33526501
Mobile20103365
Madison13723151
Tuscaloosa13366154
Montgomery12552236
Shelby1079677
Baldwin9051137
Lee787266
Morgan696451
Calhoun6598121
Etowah656167
Marshall647357
Houston541038
DeKalb498137
Cullman462443
St. Clair441956
Limestone440445
Lauderdale426754
Elmore421164
Walker3735111
Talladega370157
Jackson340423
Colbert332042
Blount306140
Autauga281842
Franklin257434
Coffee250015
Dale239054
Dallas231532
Chilton228939
Russell22663
Covington225034
Escambia202331
Tallapoosa187291
Chambers182750
Pike161514
Clarke161019
Marion144736
Winston137523
Lawrence133436
Pickens126518
Geneva12508
Marengo123424
Bibb120418
Barbour118911
Butler118642
Randolph105522
Cherokee105124
Hale98131
Fayette94616
Washington93219
Clay92824
Henry8896
Monroe83011
Lowndes80929
Cleburne78814
Macon75522
Crenshaw72230
Bullock70119
Lamar7018
Conecuh70014
Perry6916
Wilcox64818
Sumter58622
Greene43518
Choctaw43114
Coosa3664
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