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You didn't think the Mike Pence-Tim Kaine debate would actually be about Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, did you?
Early on in Tuesday night's debate in Farmville, Va., the two running mates were asked about the nominees at the top of their tickets. Kaine, a Virginia senator, was asked specifically why many voters didn't trust the Democratic presidential nominee.
He described why Clinton's career made him believe in her sincerity, saying the former secretary of State "has been focused on serving others" from her work with the Children's Defense Fund though her time in public life.
"That's a sharp contrast with Donald Trump," Kaine said, as he recounted many of the GOP presidential nominee's more controversial moments, while Pence shook his head.
"I can't imagine" how the Indiana governor could defend his ticket mate, Kaine added.
Pence then got his turn.
“Senator, you and Hillary Clinton would know a lot about an insult-driven campaign," the Indiana governor said in response to Kaine's appraisal of Trump.
After a serious of barbs directed at Clinton, Kaine interjected a line that we're guessing he might've had prepared in advance to direct at Pence: “You are Donald Trump’s apprentice.”
KING 5 Political Reporter Natalie Brand's Analysis:
I think both candidates succeeded in doing what they intended on the debate stage Tuesday night. Senator Kaine used any and all opportunities to try and reinforce negatives about Donald Trump, while Governor Pence appeared calm and measured, conveying a much different style than Donald Trump.
Both are veteran politicians and debaters, but their very different styles were on display. Kaine came out swinging, almost immediately. Some viewers, via twitter, said he appeared too aggressive or abrasive. Interruptions began within the first fifteen minutes of the debate, and talking over each other and the moderator soon became the norm.
While policy differences were raised from immigration to Roe v. Wade, much of the debate focused on defending the headlines and scandals that have plagued the candidates at the top of the ticket: Trumps taxes, Clinton’s email server, the Clinton foundation versus the Trump foundation, etc. etc.
At one point Kaine listed almost every controversial comment Trump has made over the past year. Pence, at first, sat passively, but then attacked back about a minute later, bringing up Clinton’s comment about “half of Trump’s supporters being a basket of deplorables.”
That exchange, highlighting about a year’s worth of unusual headlines reminded me of what an unusual cycle this has been…
So who won? Viewers in a Frank Luntz focus group gave Pence the win. Some said he appeared calmer and more presidential on the debate stage. Note, Luntz’s group gave Clinton the win last week, during the first presidential debate.
Pence also edged Kaine in a CNN/ORC poll post debate. However, KING 5 viewers believed Kaine did a better job of defending his candidate.
He was indeed more aggressive in fielding attacks against Clinton. Pence, on the other hand, skillfully tried to dodge defending Trump by pivoting to policy talking points, as an experienced politician often does.
Interesting to note, Pence stressed “a lifetime of experience” during his answer to the first question, while Kaine stressed “trustworthiness.” Both running mates attempted to make up for the perceived shortcomings of their candidates.
So in the end—will their performance matter? Likely not, if you look at past presidential history. VP debates have less impact on the overall presidential race, more impact on the political careers of the candidates.
The next big test is Sunday—the night of the second presidential debate. I can’t wait to see whether football or Trump v. Clinton round two get better ratings.