The significance of the Pence-Harris debate

The duel of words between Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris and her Republican counterpart, Vice President Mike Pence in their debate was noteworthy because of its ordinariness. It also gave an opportunity to discern the genuine ideological and policy spaces between the two parties — something only dimly discernable amid the rancour of the presidential debate. Ms Harris and Mr Pence differed on climate, policing, racism and health care. The only foreign policy issue was who was tougher on China. Both signalled, through evasion, that their parties were ready for hardball politics. Mr Pence refused to say his party would not challenge the election results while Ms Harris declined to say a Democratic administration would not pack the Supreme Court with judges. But the core of the debate was the Covid-19 pandemic and it was here Ms Harris drew blood, helped by the continuing spread of the pandemic and a viral outbreak in the White House that has included President Donald Trump.

For Ms Harris, the debate represents the pinnacle of the Indian-American’s role in the campaign. The pandemic and the recognition that her running mate Joe Biden is what matters in an election where middle-of-the-road whites are the swing vote have kept Ms Harris in the shadows. She assists Mr Biden by representing the spirit of America’s future: A successful female politician, representative of two ethnic minorities and strongly connected to Silicon Valley. The vice-presidential candidates do not matter to voters even though they have a better than average chance of inheriting the Oval Office given the age of the two contestants. The US election remains centred around Mr Trump and that, more than anything else, is why Mr Biden continues to pull ahead in the polls.

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