COVID-19 and a rogue fly: Key moments from the US vice presidential debate

The only vice presidential debate of the US election campaign happened overnight, with Mike Pence and Kamala Harris facing off.

And whether you missed it or want a recap, we’ve rounded up the defining moments and tried to gauge who came out on top.

Click or tap here for the full report – and here are five moments that stood out:

1. Candidates dodge the age old question

In a normal US election cycle, the vice presidential debate does not usually register in the public consciousness.

It’s a sideshow to the main event, so the conventional wisdom goes.

When he was picked as Barack Obama’s running mate in 2008, Joe Biden said “no one decides who they’re going to vote for based on the vice president”.

But not in 2020.

This year’s debate featured two candidates who could very well be president in the near future.

Analysis: Polite and well-mannered, but evasive and forgettable

Analysis: Polite and well-mannered, but evasive and forgettable

Donald Trump is 74 and recovering from coronavirus. Joe Biden, if he wins, will be 78 when he is inaugurated.

So it is not surprising that one of the first questions asked of the two candidates was whether they had had a conversation with their running mate about a plan of succession.

However, both candidates avoided giving a direct answer, instead pivoting to talk about something else.

2. Plenty of interruptions – but a more civilised tone

One political commentator in the States described last week’s debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden as a “hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck”.

So after a debate plagued by interruptions and insults, all eyes were on the number twos to see if they could bring some civility back to the debates.

There were still plenty of interruptions in this debate, with moderator Susan Page often struggling to keep the candidates within the time limits for their answers and prevent them from talking over one another.

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‘Mr Vice President I’m speaking’

Kamala Harris deployed a specific tactic when Mike Pence interrupted her – utilising a polite, but firm rebuke: “Mr vice president, I’m speaking.”

But overall, this debate was much less chaotic and bitter.

This was evidenced by the fact that Mr Pence made a point of mentioning the “historic nature” of his opponent’s nomination – Ms Harris is the first black woman and first Asian-American to be picked.

VP debate as it happened

3. Coronavirus dominates again

The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the first debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and it was no surprise that history repeated itself on Wednesday.

Kamala Harris labelled the president’s response to the virus the “greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country” and claimed he had “forfeited the right” to a second term in office.

Mike Pence hit back, saying that Mr Trump had “put the American people first” during what had been a “very challenging time”.

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‘Doctors – not Trump – should endorse vaccine’

And he accused Mr Biden of copying parts of Mr Trump’s plan for tackling COVID-19, declaring: “It looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about.”

Mr Biden has faced accusations of copying speeches in the past, including from former Labour leader Neil Kinnock during his first White House bid in the 1980s.

4. Will Trump accept the election result?

It was the questions that the candidates did not answer that was one of the noteworthy features of the debate.

Mike Pence avoided saying whether Donald Trump would accept the result of the election if he loses.

The president has so far not given a definitive answer to the question, raising the prospect of post-election turmoil and rancour.

5. Unexpected guest generates buzz

As the debate drew to a close, viewers noticed something strange on Mike Pence’s head.

A fly had landed there and set up shop, provoking a string of jokes and messages on social media.

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Fly makes itself at home on Mike Pence

Joe Biden quickly got in on the act, tweeting a photo of himself holding an orange flyswatter with the caption “Pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly”.

The fact that this was one of the standout features of the debate tells you that there was no paradigm shifting moment.

Pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly.

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 8, 2020

“After this vice presidential showdown, it would be a surprise if there was any change in the polls,” was the verdict of our correspondent James Matthews.

“Sure, Kamala Harris and Mike Pence tackled the big issues but there was little we hadn’t heard before and there was no game-changing headline.”

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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