Five takeaways from the vice presidential debate
© Greg Nash

The buttoned-up and supposedly boring vice presidential nominees turned in a ripper of a debate on Tuesday night, yet another fascinating twist in a wholly unpredictable presidential campaign.

Democrat Tim KaineTimothy Michael KaineWeek ahead: Crunch time for defense bill’s cyber reforms | Equifax under scrutiny Insurer Anthem to cover bare ObamaCare counties in Virginia Senate votes down Paul's bid to revoke war authorizations MORE and Republican Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceNew GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Pence hires Freedom Caucus adviser for press secretary Lawmakers, pick up the ball on health care and reform Medicaid MORE clashed early and often in Farmville, Va., battling to be heard over one another as they let loose with attacks against Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE and Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain MORE.

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Here are five takeaways from an entertaining debate that has the potential to hit reset on the presidential campaign just 34 days before the election.

Pence wins on style
    
Pence has long been hailed by fellow Republicans as one of the party’s most effective conservative communicators.

The Indiana governor got his start in politics as a conservative radio commentator, and his skills in front of the microphone were on display Tuesday night.

Pence was polished and crisp. On the radio broadcast, he sounded smooth. On television, he appeared confident, directly addressing the camera and remaining still in his seat.

Kaine, on the other hand, was shifty and appeared overly eager, something exaggerated by the split-screen with Pence. His constant interruptions were poorly received.

Overall, Pence did his job. The Indiana governor badly needed to reverse momentum in the race after Trump followed a shaky debate performance with a disastrous week of controversy.

The Republican ticket may only ride this high until Sunday, when Trump and Clinton square off for their second debate.

But in the short term, Pence’s performance recalled Vice President Biden’s strong debate against Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Ryan: Americans want to see Trump talking with Dem leaders Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Wis.) in 2012. Then, Biden rode to the rescue after President Obama laid an egg in his first debate against GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Kaine struggles with change election

Clinton and Kaine are favored to win. If they do, it will be in spite of their resumes.

Both are long on government service and running in the year of the outsider.

That dynamic was abundantly clear on Tuesday night as Kaine twisted to defend the status quo, often setting up Pence for some of his strongest moments.

Kaine noted that he’s worked in “all levels of government.”

“And God bless you for it,” Pence responded. “Career public servants. Donald Trump is a businessman.”

Kaine argued that the economic recovery has been a success.

“The people of Scranton know different,” Pence responded. “The people of Fort Wayne know different.”

And Kaine’s extended riff on how the U.S. is safer today from the threat of terror than it was eight years ago — before the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — will certainly be used against Clinton.

Over and over again, Pence swatted away Kaine’s defense of the Obama years as the scripted pablum of lifelong politicians.

“You use that line a whole lot,” Pence said at one point. “You and your running mate use a lot of predone lines.”

Pence pivots from Trump — repeatedly

If Kaine had a hard time defending the status quo, Pence struggled to defend the litany of controversies surrounding Trump.

“I can't imagine how Gov. Pence can defend the insult-driven, selfish, me-first style of Donald Trump,” Kaine said near the beginning of the debate.

From there on out, Kaine’s strategy was to force Pence to respond to every feud, scandal or controversial remark that has haunted Trump from his decades in public life.

Pence repeatedly dodged, denied the charges or turned to another topic.

But Kaine never let up, touching on Trump’s disparaging remarks about women, Mexicans and Muslims, his refusal to release his tax returns, his glowing reviews of dictators, and his “birther” attacks against the president.

The Virginia senator had a go-to line whenever Pence denied the accusations.

“Go to the tape,” Kaine would say.

By the end of the night, Kaine was calling Pence out for refusing to talk about Trump’s myriad controversies.

“He is asking everybody to vote for somebody that he cannot defend,” Kaine said.

Interruptions dominate

Kaine came hot out of the gate at Longwood University and went aggressively after Pence from the start, even if it meant interrupting and talking over him.

It’s a strategy that backfired on Trump in the debate last week, and the early reviews of Kaine’s performance — even from Democrats — have not been kind.

Kaine came armed with one-liners, many of them good. But the hits often failed to land when Kaine’s zingers were buried in the cross-talk started by his own aggressiveness.

The Republican National Committee counted 70 interruptions, and the group gleefully emailed out reviews from media focus groups saying that voters found Kaine’s interruptions off-putting.

Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway sought to turn the tables on Democrats, who a week earlier accused Trump of sexist attacks against Clinton for repeatedly talking over her.

“How many times has @timkaine ignored and interrupted the female moderator tonight? #sexist,” Conway tweeted.

Pence thinking 2020?

If Trump falls short in 2016, Pence seems almost certain to run in 2020.

He has earned rave reviews as a disciplined and principled candidate on the campaign trail. 

And even those Republicans who can’t bring themselves to vote for the GOP nominee have been able to separate their disdain for Trump from their admiration for Pence.

The governor will have a strong stable of allies on Capitol Hill, a national donor network and experience running the presidential gauntlet.

Still, saddled with Trump — and what could be a stinging 2016 defeat — it could be very difficult for him to win the party’s nomination in the next go round.