US Presidential Election: Democrat Tim Kaine, Republican Mike Pence to square off in VP debate

After a dramatic week of beauty queens, sex tape allegations and tax leaks, the upcoming US vice presidential debate could feel like a throwback to simpler times.

Featuring low-key career politicians, the match-up between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence in Farmville, Virginia likely won't exude the reality show drama Americans have come to expect in the 2016 presidential election.

Both VP picks have said their respective running mates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump set a high bar in the first of three presidential debates, which drew a record 84 million viewers.

File photo of Republican vice presidential candidate Indiana Gov Mike Pence. AP

File photo of Republican vice presidential candidate Indiana Gov Mike Pence. AP

A showdown between two middle-aged white men that some Twitter users predict will be akin to "watching paint dry," the goal of this debate is to go easy on the zingers and woo undecided voters.

"Given the polarizing nature of the two major-party nominees and the incredible attention paid to each of them, the vice presidential debate in 2016 may be even more of a sideshow than it normally is," said Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

The vice presidential debate on Tuesday will be the only time Pence and Kaine will, for the most part, have the nation's political attention all to themselves, away from their much better-known running mates.

The stakes will be lower than the three presidential debates, but will give each largely undefined candidate a chance to make a mark on a national audience.

Running mates rarely overshadow the top of the ticket, although Sarah Palin caused a sensation as Republican John McCain's pick in 2008. But voters always have a reason to size up the people who would be next in line for the presidency.

Second in line

Easily overshadowed by experienced diplomat Clinton and bombastic real estate mogul Trump, the vice-presidential candidates remain important considering that either could be commander-in-chief should the future president die or resign.

Nine of the 44 US presidents became the nation's leader by succession.

Clinton is approaching 69 and Trump is 70 — among the oldest people ever to run for the presidency — and the health of the White House hopefuls has been a top theme of the campaign.

Kaine and Pence also have the chance to compensate for the excesses and weak spots of their running mates.

As Trump wraps a week of campaign bombshells — including his abusive comments about a Venezuelan-born beauty queen — "Pence may try to provide a more respectable face for the Republican ticket," said Joel Goldstein, a constitutional law professor at St Louis University.

Democrat Kaine will "certainly present himself and Clinton as policy-oriented people committed to helping the less fortunate and the middle class," Goldstein said.

"I would expect most of the discussion to be about the presidential candidates and their policies, not about the vice presidential candidates."

Different approach 

Pence, Trump's running mate, is taking a decidedly un-Trump like approach to the vice presidential debate. He's preparing for it.

The Indiana governor and former 12-year congressman held mock debate sessions with Wisconsin Gov Scott Walker as a stand-in, studying up on issues likely to be raised and making sure he avoids the criticisms of being unprepared that dogged Trump after his uneven performance a week ago. "We're going to do our level best to be ready," Pence told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt this past week.

Pence was spending the weekend back home in Indianapolis, taking a break from campaign travel to be with his family and continue informal debate preparations, spokesman Marc Lotter said.

File photo of Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen Tim Kaine. AP

File photo of Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen Tim Kaine. AP

Clinton's running mate, a former Virginia governor and current US senator, spent several days preparing for the debate in Raleigh, North Carolina, and in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. The debate will take place at Longwood University, about an hour west of Richmond.

Helping Kaine is Washington, DC, lawyer Robert Barnett, a veteran of prepping Democrats for debates. Kaine said he's been "thinking hard" about what Pence's record says "about the guy who chose him, because it really is more about Donald Trump than it is about Gov Pence."

Pence and Kaine are practiced public speakers with lengthy political careers who should bring a high level of polish to the undercard debate. Pence is a former talk radio host; Kaine a former Harvard-trained trial lawyer.

Convince the fringes

Both considered safe picks, Kaine and Pence will wield their nice-guy, workmanlike demeanors to entice voters turned off by the circus-like atmosphere of the campaign.

Clinton said she chose senator Kaine because she wanted someone with enough experience to "literally get up one day and be the president of the United States."

"He has never lost an election," she said of the folksy but experienced foreign policy hand from the battleground state of Virginia.

Kaine, 58, is seen as helping Clinton garner support among independent male voters, and the senator's strong Spanish could help cement Clinton's popularity among Hispanic voters.

When he introduced Pence as his running-mate, billionaire Trump called the Indiana governor a "solid" man and a unifying figure.

The 57-year-old conservative evangelical Christian and former congressman could take on the seemingly herculean task of reassuring voters alarmed by Trump's incendiary rhetoric.

"Since so few visible Republicans are supporting Mr Trump with any enthusiasm, Governor Pence has served as an important surrogate for Trump," Goldstein said.

A Gallup analysis done before Joe Biden and Paul Ryan squared off in 2012 showed that vice-presidential debates rarely have much impact.

Even after the 2008 debate that pitted Biden and the high-wattage Sarah Palin against each other — drawing nearly 70 million viewers — voter preference remained relatively unchanged.

Different roles

Pence has frequently been on the hot seat defending, deflecting and explaining some of his unconventional running mate's more inflammatory comments and views. It's made for some awkward moments, with Pence defending Trump's praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump's apparent support for a policy of stop-and-frisk by police, and Trump's feud with a Muslim-American family whose son, a US Army captain, was killed while serving in Iraq in 2004.

After Monday's presidential debate, Pence made the rounds on the television networks, where he broke with Trump on global warming. Trump has called warming a hoax, while Pence said after the debate that "there's no question" human activity affects both the climate and the environment.

Kaine, by contrast, is much more in lockstep with Clinton and has rarely faced tough questions on a tightly managed campaign that's so far been heavy with private glitzy fundraisers and lighter moments on TV. He's no fire-eater. He's called himself "boring," a quality Clinton said she loves about him.

Some days Kaine's toughest job is holding his own while jamming on harmonica with some world-class musical talents. That list so far includes Jon Batiste (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert house band leader), Lindsey Buckingham (guitarist for Fleetwood Mac), Asleep at the Wheel (local country legends in Austin, Texas) and John Popper (frontman for Blues Traveler).

Recently, while Pence was defending a tweet from one of Trump's son's comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles, Kaine was in the middle of a California fundraising tour that included a dinner at actress Eva Longoria's house and an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

After the first presidential debate, Kaine and Pence both claimed victory for their candidates and looked ahead to their showdown.

Speaking to volunteers in Orlando, Florida, Kaine said Clinton's performance "raised the bar."

"That puts pressure on me," he joked.

On a TV appearance before flying to Wisconsin for two days of preparations with Walker, Pence said the same.

"Donald Trump raised the bar for his running mate," Pence said.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Oct 25, 2016 12:27 PM

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