SALT LAKE CITY | With Donald Trump recovering from COVID-19 and concerns over the age and shape of his Democratic rival Joe Biden, the stakes are higher than ever Wednesday night for the first and only debate between their lieutenants, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris.
• Read also: Trump already back in the Oval Office, six days after contracting COVID-19
The running mates of the candidates are running for the post of vice-president, who will replace the president of the United States in the event of death or incapacity.
With less than four weeks to go, the pandemic has made its way onto the set of the scheduled television debate in Salt Lake City, Utah, at 9 p.m. Plexiglass walls have been installed to separate the current Republican vice-president and the Democratic senator, and the offices where they will be seated have been moved almost four meters away.
Ex-prosecutor accustomed to sharp indictments, Kamala Harris, 55, should not fail to pin her opponent on handling the health crisis.
Mike Pence, 61, has been at the helm of the White House crisis unit in charge of fighting the coronavirus since February, in the country where he has killed the most in the world.
And his most famous patient, Donald Trump, 74, will be on everyone’s mind.
After three days of hospitalization until Monday evening, the Republican president returned to the Oval Office on Wednesday despite warnings about the risk of contagion. And even if the number of people working alongside him who have tested positive continues to grow.
The message is clear: Donald Trump plays the card of the leader who defeated the virus, who now calls on his compatriots not to let COVID-19 “dominate” them.
A speech that Kamala Harris will certainly try to demolish on Wednesday night. “Go tell that to the families” of the more than 210,000 dead from the pandemic in the United States, has already hammered Joe Biden.
“Most important debate”
Donald Trump’s halt to negotiations with the opposition on a plan to help households and small businesses should also be at the heart of the talks. Democrats accuse the president on this issue of abandoning his fellow citizens.
Mike Pence will have to defend the record of four years in office alongside the stormy billionaire. And he could try to counter-attack by evoking the eight years spent by Joe Biden in the White House, when he was vice-president of Barack Obama.
The Republican invited the parents of Kayla Mueller, a young aid worker who was kidnapped in Aleppo, Syria, by the jihadist group Islamic State, when Joe Biden was in power. His body has never been found.
“I believe we are going to see tonight … the most important debate between running for vice presidential candidates since they began to organize in 1976,” Republican Senator John Barrasso told CNN. Viewers “will try to see who is ready to be commander-in-chief,” he added.
Their lieutenants each complete, in their own way, the personality of the candidates for the White House.
Fervent Christian with civilized manners, Mike Pence, lawyer by training, contrasts with the colorful personality of Donald Trump.
On the pandemic, he sticks to measured words. But this ultra-conservative ex-governor and radio host is also a disciplined speaker.
Daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, Kamala Harris is seen as a token of vitality alongside Joe Biden, 77, who would be the oldest president to take office in January, if he was elected.
The first black running mate on behalf of a big party, she would become America’s first female vice president if they won.
“I can’t wait to see Kamala Harris make history,” Joe Biden tweeted.
But she hadn’t particularly shone during the debates of the Democratic primary – apart from a blow against, in fact, Joe Biden.
Skepticism about plexiglass
Posing as a unifier of a divided America, the former vice-president of Barack Obama has been leading in the polls for months. And widened the gap even further after his first abrasive September 29 debate against Donald Trump.
Less than three days later, the president announced his diagnosis. Scrupulously respecting barrier gestures, Joe Biden has since been tested negative four times.
In the room, the relatives of Donald Trump had removed their masks, despite the instructions.
This time, the organizers will be strict. And added the famous plexiglass walls, although experts warn that it will not necessarily protect Mike Pence and Kamala Harris from possible contamination of Covid-19 by particles suspended in the air.