One candidate who has presidential aspirations of her own and another who is only a heartbeat away from the Oval Office met Wednesday night in the vice presidential debate.
Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris, who is Democrat Joe Biden’s running mate, squared off at 9 p.m. EDT from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Susan Page of USA Today will moderate the debate.
The debate in Salt Lake City came less than a week after President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus.
Vice presidential debates usually don’t draw the attention of their presidential counterparts, but 2020 is an election like no other in history, so the actions and comments of both candidates are being heavily scrutinized.
Harris and Pence were separated by a see-through barrier to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. The Democratic campaign requested the plexiglass shield between the candidates, and an aide to Pence said, “If such a barrier’s critical for the Harris team, then we’re not going to let it stand in the way of having that conversation about the future of our country.”
Harris and Pence were seated more than 12 feet apart during the matchup, according to an AP anonymous source. Harris’s campaign reported Wednesday morning she has tested negative for the virus, and Pence reported he tested negative on Tuesday.
For his part, Pence was forced to defend Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. Earlier this year, Pence was put in charge of the White House’s coronavirus task force.
Pence’s boss was discharged Monday night after a three-day hospitalization at Walter Reed Medical Center after the president contracted the virus. The White House has been ravaged by the pandemic, with several high-profile staffers, including press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, testing positive for the disease.
Trump recently gathered more than 150 people in the Rose Garden to announce Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his latest U.S. Supreme Court nominee.
Besides Trump, among those who attended who have now tested positive include first lady Melania Trump, McEnany, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, the president of the University of Notre Dame and at least two Republican lawmakers, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.
Pence was among those who attended the event, though he has not tested COVID positive.
The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people stay at home for 14 days after their last exposure to someone with the coronavirus.
Pence traveled to Utah on Monday and is now taking a lead role in the reelection campaign. Trump is recovering and unable to hold rallies or other campaign events.
The coronavirus has killed more than 210,000 in the U.S. and more than 1 million worldwide.
Harris, meanwhile, has been in Utah since Saturday to prepare for the debate. She last reported a negative test Friday and campaigned in Las Vegas later that day.
Harris made history Wednesday night as the first woman of color to appear as part of a national political ticket. Geraldine Ferraro was the first female vice presidential running mate, on Walter Mondale’s 1984 Democratic ticket that was defeated by President Ronald Reagan in a landslide.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was picked by U.S. Sen. John McCain in 2008 to oppose Biden, who was Democrat Barack Obama’s running mate.
The intensifying focus on the vice presidential debate offers Harris an important chance. If Biden serves only one term as president — if he’s elected — Harris would then have a huge advantage over other Democrats who may consider a 2024 run.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution