Pence-Harris: Five key takeaways from the vice-presidential debate

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By Euronews  with AP
Pence and Harris go head-to-head on the debate stage. Oct. 7, 2020. Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Pence and Harris go head-to-head on the debate stage. Oct. 7, 2020. Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Julio Cortez

As Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Kamala Harris went toe-to-toe, audiences observed a return to some semblance of normal presidential politics after the raucous debate between the U.S. presidential candidates.

The candidates were separated by plexiglass as a coronavirus measure after several cases were reported among White House staff and members of President Donald Trump's inner circle, despite Pence’s staff saying he has tested negative for COVID-19

Here are the key things you need to know from Wednesday's debate.

A more measured debate

Despite some modest interruptions and violations of the debate clock, the Pence-Harris debate was all-around more civilised than Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's.

Last week the President interrupted Biden as many as 71 times, but when Pence tried to interject when Harris was speaking early on she retorted: "Mr Vice-President, I’m speaking. I’m speaking."

Harris goes big on criticism of COVID-19 response

The Democratic candidate immediately put Pence on the defensive, calling Trump's pandemic response "the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country."

Harris kept her points clear, backing them up with figures, saying Pence and the President knew at the start of the year how serious the threat from the virus was but that Trump had tried to downplay the risk.

“Here are the facts: 210,000 dead people in our country in just the last seven months. Over 7 million who have contracted this disease,” she said.

“We’re looking at over 30 million people who in the last seven months had to file for unemployment.”

But Pence had a comeback at the ready, quipping Harris and Biden's plan was mostly the same as what the Trump administration was doing, adding there had been rapid progress on a vaccine.

Sparring over systematic racism

The most striking moment when candidates came to verbal blows was over race and law enforcement in the US.

Harris, 55, made history by becoming the first Black woman to stand on a vice presidential debate stage, using the platform to condemn the police killings of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota.

She also spoke about the protests against racial injustice in policing that followed, which Trump has portrayed as “riots” as he calls for law-and-order.

“We are never going to condone violence but we must always fight for the values that we hold dear,” Harris said.

Pence said his heart breaks for Taylor’s family but he trusts the US justice system, adding that suggestions the nation is systemically racist were an insult to law enforcement officers.

Both candidates side-step questions

While the topics of the debate were not released ahead of time, both Pence and Harris clearly had an arsenal of pre-prepared answers and were not afraid of launched into them, regardless of what they had been asked.

Both dodged questions on if they were ready stand-in should Trump or Biden — both septuagenarians— fall ill.

In the Republican corner, Pence refused to comment on if would accept the results of the election, something Trump also did last week.

While Harris side-stepped a question on if Biden would seek to "pack" the supreme court, increasing the number of liberal justices, in order to water it down and prevent a solid conservative majority.

A fly on Pence's hair distracts the internet

Most prominent on social media were the two minutes when a fly rested on Pence's well-combed white hair. Pence did not flinch. The internet exploded.

And the Biden campaign sprung into action, claiming the internet domain to take users to a site for voter registration and information and tweeting it out from the Democrat's account.