Vice presidential hopefuls Tim Kaine and Mike Pence launched into their only debate of the campaign Tuesday, immediately clashing on the reputations and experiences of their bosses chasing the White House.
Democrat Kaine and Republican Pence squared off to highlight their capabilities as the men who could be a heartbeat away from the presidency, but essentially they were on stage fighting a proxy war for their running mates five weeks before Election Day on 8 November.
Kaine, a US senator from Virginia, promoted himself as a deeply experienced local, state and national politician who would be the "right hand person" for Clinton, describing her as trustworthy and more than capable in the role of commander in chief.
"The thought of Donald Trump as commander in chief scares us to death," Kaine said.
"I can't imagine how Governor Pence can defend the insult-driven, selfish, me-first style of Donald Trump."
Pence, the governor of Indiana, calmly shot back: "You would know a lot about an insult-driven campaign," highlighting Clinton's relentless criticism of Trump in recent months.
"We see entire portions of the world, particularly the wider Middle East, spinning out of control. The situation we're watching hour by hour in Syria today is the result of the weak foreign policy that Hillary Clinton helped lead in this administration and create."
The two men repeatedly talked over each over as they clashed over Trump's failure to release his tax records, social security and the prospect of mounting debt, forcing moderator Elaine Quijano to intervene and insist they cut it out.
Kaine, 58 and Pence, 57, are about 10 years younger than the presidential nominees. They each are fathers of a son serving in the US military, and they are seen as more engaged with their faith than Clinton and Trump.
Tim Kaine lobbed so many zingers — including some comedic misfires — about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that Mike Pence called out the feisty Democrat's "pre-done lines."
As the debate opened, Kaine asked how Pence could defend the "insult-driven, me-first style of Donald Trump." As Pence questioned Hillary Clinton's record as secretary of state, Kaine interrupted, "You really are Donald Trump's apprentice" — a nod to Trump's reality television show.
The Democrat later riffed on Trump's "America first" campaign motto, calling his economic proposal "really a Trump-first plan."
Some of Kaine's one-liners sounded a bit forced, at least to Pence.
"Do you want a 'you're hired' president in Hillary Clinton or a 'you're fired president' in Donald Trump?" Kaine asked, appropriating Trump's signature line from "The Apprentice."
Pence scoffed and shook his head.
"First, let me say, I appreciated the 'you're hired,' 'you're fired' thing, senator. You use that a whole lot, and I think your running mate used a lot of pre-done lines," Pence said, referring to Clinton's debate performance.
A moment later, it was Pence with the wince-worthy line.
"There you go again," Pence said flatly, when Kaine talked about Republicans wanting to privatize Social Security. That's a line made famous by President Ronald Reagan.