As far as numbers go, Kamala Harris, the first ever Indian and African American woman on a US presidential ticket, enters Wednesday’s prime time Vice Presidential debate on a high with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden widening his head-to-head lead against US president Donald Trump, now the country’s most famous COVID-19 patient.
Pence and Harris face off Wednesday 9 p.m. EST (Thursday, 6.30 a.m. IST). They meet on the debate stage for the first and only time, in Utah.
VP debates have rarely been a lightning rod in the final bend of presidential politics, but in the last week alone, the stakes have shifted in surprising ways.
Harris’ presence on the debate stage is historic, in and of itself. Harris will be looking to star in a few big moments Wednesday night to leave her mark in the annals of presidential politics.
She did that in the Democratic primary debates by turning the clock back to her personal experience with school busing. At that time, it was to attack Biden.
Harris’ introduction as VP nominee to the American public and her subsequent pitches have been deeply personal. In a pre-debate tweet, Harris said she is voting “for people like my mother, Shyamala, who taught my sister and me that if you see a problem, you don’t complain about it: you do something about it. “It’s because of her that I know change is possible when we put in the work.”
Harris’ mother Shyamala Gopalan was only 19 when she arrived in Berkeley, which was crackling at the time with civil rights activity. It was here that she met Donald Harris, a graduate economics student from Jamaica. They married and had two girl children, Kamala and Maya. Harris never fails to headline the ‘Mother India’ theme in her high stakes public appearances.
This time, the task before Harris is to force Pence to answer for Trump’s chaotic handling of the pandemic and endless attempts to downplay the virus and its deadly potential. Pence heads the president’s coronavirus task force.
In the week since the first presidential debate, Biden has widened to 9.2 points his national lead over Trump, according to a Real Clear Politics poll average dated between September 22 and October 5.
Trump is 74 and clinically obese, putting him at high risk of COVID-19 complications. Trump’s condition has cranked up the scrutiny of Biden’s vulnerability, at age 77. Of the four in the fray – Trump-Pence and Biden-Harris, Harris is the youngest. She is 55.
Given the ages of both Trump and Biden, voters’ chatter is already rife that Pence or Harris might be required to step into the presidency before 2024.
With Donald Trump laid up in the White House cum hospital now, the pressure on Vice president Mike Pence to deliver the goods rises dramatically.
Trump may be too unwell to attend the next two presidential debates and the first one, before Trump caught COVID-19, was drowned out by a mess of cross talk and personal insults.
The Commission on Presidential Debates has approved plans for plexiglass barriers between Pence, Harris and moderator Susan Page – a visual reminder of the virus’ deadly rampage through the world’s wealthiest country.
Pence and Harris will be 13 feet apart, instead of the originally agreed seven feet distance. More than 210,000 Americans are dead from the virus, more than 7.4 million are infected, including the US president, and masks are still being debated.