Mike Pence Kamala Harris debate
This combination of pictures created on October 07, 2020 shows US Democratic vice presidential nominee and Senator from California Kamala Harris and US Vice President Mike Pence during the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The vice-presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris in Salt Lake City on Wednesday morning was a study in contrast to the one last week between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. There were no interruptions or name-calling, no snide remarks or sneering. In its place was a more pleasant debate that was set firmly in place by the moderator Susan Page.

It was termed the most important vice-presidential debate ever, but in the end there were plenty of unanswered questions. Both candidates stuck to their rehearsed points, and were not challenged by the moderator when they did not give a direct answer. Vice-President Mike Pence came across as the expert on how to evade questions. Soft-spoken and polite, Pence repeatedly spoke on issues other than the question put to him.

Here’s an example. When the candidates were asked what they felt about the age and health of the presidential candidates, Pence spoke about the coronavirus vaccine and Harris of her mother and of what she did as the attorney-general of California. It was a perfect example of how to answer a question in a debate when it is uncomfortable – don’t answer it at all.

I will not sit here and be lectured by the vice-president on what it means to enforce the laws of our country

- Kamala Harris, Democratic vice-presidential nominee

In terms of expression and curtness, Harris came across as the stronger candidate compared to the gentle Pence. She wasted no time in attacking Trump’s record on COVID-19 with facts and figures at the beginning of the debate. "The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country. And frankly, this administration has forfeited their right to reelection based on this," she said.

The reply from Pence was studied and on expected lines. "I want the American people to know, from the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of America first," Pence said, pointing to his ban on travel from China on January 31, a month after cases first emerged in Wuhan.

Three times during the debate, when Pence interjected while Harris was speaking, she was sharp in her reply: “Mr Pence, I am speaking, I am speaking.”

You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

- Mike Pence, US Vice-President

In contrast to Trump's attacks on Biden and his family, Pence demonstrated calm and stability and congratulated Harris on the historic nature of her candidacy. Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, would also be both the first African-American and Asian-American vice-president if Biden wins the election.

The debate could have been livelier, had the moderator pursued questions when they were not answered. With two minutes each per contestant for nine topics including climate change, economy, China and racial justice, at times it seemed like a race against the clock and more of a question and answer session. In fact, the debate was an over-correction of what we saw last week.

Having said that there were times when the candidates did come out strongly.

One was when Harris said: "I will not sit here and be lectured by the vice-president on what it means to enforce the laws of our country."

Another was by Pence when he said twice: “You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

So who won the debate? In many parts, it was Kamala Harris who came out as the stronger candidate against the gentler Pence.

The debate between Pence and Harris is unlikely to change the presidential race, but viewers got a good idea of how strong the vice-presidential contenders are.