Presidential races

Five things to watch for in the vice presidential debate

Greg Nash

Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will square off Tuesday night in the only vice presidential debate of the cycle.

Pence, Donald Trump’s running mate, will be trying to turn momentum around in the race after a difficult week for the Republican nominee.

{mosads}Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential pick, will use the showdown in Farmville, Va., to try to keep Democrats on offense 

The Kaine-Pence clash is not expected to break television ratings records.

The two are largely overshadowed by Trump and Clinton, and a recent poll found more than 40 percent of Americans can’t name both VP nominees.

Here are five things to watch for on Tuesday night.

Can Pence change the narrative?

Team Trump is in desperate need of good news.

Polls suggest Trump was on the losing end of the first presidential debate last week, and the Republican moved from the battle into another one with a former Miss Universe who had gained weight after winning the pageant title awarded by Trump.

Clinton used the drawn-out fight as a wedge against Trump with both women and Hispanic voters, and Trump repeatedly extended the story, first with a call into a television program and then with a series of late-night tweets in which he accused the beauty queen of filming a sex tape.

That was followed by the news that Trump himself appeared, fully clothed, in a Playboy soft-porn movie.

And that was followed by an explosive story in The New York Times that said Trump might have lost nearly a billion dollars in one year and then avoided paying income taxes for the next 18 years.

Pence is likely to get asked about all of these issue and more in the 90-minute town-hall debate on Tuesday night.

The Indiana governor and former House lawmaker is a skilled communicator, having previously hosted a talk radio show. And he’s used to moving the conversation to topics and arguments that he wants to pursue.

But the degree of difficulty for Pence can’t be underestimated. He’s differed with Trump on some issues — Pence has released his own tax records while Trump has not — and explaining the contrast could be difficult. 

Will tax returns dominate the debate?

The New York Times story was like manna from heaven for Democrats.

They’ve long hammered Trump by raising the specter that he has found ways to not pay taxes, and the news forced Trump surrogates onto the defensive.

So far, his allies have argued that Trump showed strong business acumen by using the tax code to his advantage. But that may be a tough sell to swing voters who are struggling to get by.

Tuesday’s debate will offer Pence the risky chance to mount the campaign’s first major defense on a national stage.

A strong or new justification could help reassure Republican worries, but a high-profile flub could breathe even more life into the controversy.

Can Kaine give strong defense of Clinton?

Clinton has had a hard time connecting with voters, and polls continue to show a large part of the electorate does not trust the Democratic nominee.

Kaine will be seeking to further humanize Clinton during Tuesday’s debate while making the case that she’s the best, most rational choice for voters.

The Virginia senator will also have to be ready for questions about the email and Clinton Foundation controversies that have battered the Democrat throughout the cycle.

Clinton wasn’t asked about either topic during the first debate; Trump only gave a cursory mention to each, and moderator Lester Holt didn’t focus on either. 

Kaine may also be in a tough spot when it comes to Trump’s attacks on Clinton’s marriage.

The GOP nominee lauded his own decision not to bring up former President Bill Clinton’s affairs during the earlier debate, but he and his team have spent the subsequent days doing just that.

Pence is not likely to go in this direction, but it will be interesting to see if Kaine makes a preemptive attack, particularly after Trump at a Saturday night rally said that Hillary Clinton was not “loyal to Bill.”

Do voters care?

It’s almost always hard for the vice presidential nominees to move the needle on the presidential contest, and Kaine and Pence would seem to face a particularly steep hill.

A Gallup analysis of polling from the 1976 to 2008 elections found that no vice presidential debate made any tangible dent in the polls.

In 2012, Vice President Biden did give his ticket a chance to recover from President Obama’s poor performance in the first contest, but it was not seen as a particularly pivotal moment.

Even in 2008, when the vice presidential debate between Biden and Republican Sarah Palin was must-see TV, it didn’t have a major effect on the race.

This year, Kaine and Pence are heavily overshadowed by the politicians at the top of the ticket.

One of the biggest debate stories might come a day after they clash, when ratings will reveal how many people were watching.

Will there be a memorable moment?

The vice presidential debate may not be any election’s main event, but it has had its share of memorable moments.

One of the most famous presidential debate moments in history came from the 1988 vice presidential debate between Sens. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and Dan Quayle (R-Ind.).

After Quayle used President John F. Kennedy as a comparison, Bentsen struck.

“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy,” he said.

Sometimes, the debates turn downright odd.

That was the case in the 1992, when independent candidate Ross Perot’s vice president, Adm. James Stockdale, delivered a soliloquy meant to poke at the dominance of the two parties.

“Who am I? Why am I here?” he asked jokingly.

The comment won laughs at the time but is now the only moment people really remember from that debate.

Tags Bill Clinton Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Mike Pence Tim Kaine

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