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Vice presidential debate: Watchers say they want real discussion of policies

A banner promoting next week's vice presidential debate hangs from a lamppost at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.

UNIVERSITY OF UTAH – The eyes of the political world will be focused on the University of Utah Wednesday night as Vice President Mike Pence will square off against Senator Kamala Harris in their only vice presidential debate this year.  The Trump-Pence ticket has a lead in the polls in Utah, but, some people say this debate could sway their opinion one way or another.

The general consensus about last week’s debate between President Trump and Joe Biden was that it was, in a word, terrible.  One political correspondent, CNN’s Dana Bash, used a completely different word that our management would rather I don’t repeat.  In fact, the debate was so bad, one writer from The Hill says presidential debates should be done away with. 

However, some political analysts believe the week’s vice presidential debate could benefit from last week’s “hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck,” as CNN’s Jake Tapper put it.  Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Jason Perry says people will be watching the VP debate a lot more closely since last week’s was so chaotic.

Perry says, “It would have been entertaining if it wasn’t so frustrating.  People were looking for some kind of plan coming out of that debate, and they didn’t get it.” 

Perry believes this debate will be a stark contrast to last week’s.  He says Vice President Pence doesn’t have the same style of debate President Trump has.

“He’s steady, not really prone to wild accusation or speech.  Senator Kamala Harris is a former prosecutor.  She has been trained in the courtroom which means her words are going to be chosen carefully and they’re going to be sharp,” Perry says.

While the Republicans are in the lead in Utah, four percent of Trump supporters polled by Y2 Analytics say their minds can be changed.  In Biden’s case, two percent said they could switch.  The poll also shows Utahns have a much higher favorable opinion of Vice President Pence than they do Senator Harris.

One University of Utah student we spoke with, Abby Dompier, says she wants the candidates to focus on actual policies Wednesday Night.

“I think a big one, right now, is health care revolving around the COVID-19 pandemic.  I also think there needs to be something addressing the large loss of jobs that we experienced at the start of that, as well,” she says.

For the most part, she doesn’t believe this debate will change many minds, but, it may serve a different purpose.

Dompier says, “I do think that this helps with mobilizing people who have made up their minds to maybe get their friends riled up.”

Other students like Connor Hess say the vice presidential debates don’t really get talked about much, unless someone really messes up.  He has his fingers crossed this year’s will be different.

Hess says, “This year, I’d say it’s a little different, especially with the president having recently gotten COVID-19.  Hopefully, for this debate, I [hope to] see more policy discussions.”

Will there be a clear winner?  Hess predicts, probably not.

“I don’t see either coming out as a clear winner.  I think both will get lines that will play well on their respective news sites,” he says.


This debate will begin at 6 pm and will be aired on KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM) or KSL 5 TV on-air or online.