Sitting 12 feet apart with plexiglass screens between them, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris did battle in the US vice presidential debate.

There was none of the aggression, interruptions and insults that we saw at last week's presidential debate but there was plenty of question dodging, time overruns and, oh yes, a fly.

Here are nine takeaways from the debate:

1. The Moderator

The debate was moderated by Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief for USA Today. Last week's moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, was criticised for failing to control the presidential debate and stop Donald Trump's constant interruptions.

Ms Page began the debate by telling the candidates that she was there to enforce the ground rules for the American people.

"We want a debate that is lively but Americans deserve a discussion that is respectful," she said.

She was quick to cut off candidates when they went overtime with repeated chants of "thank you, thank you, thank you".

It worked at the start but after a while the candidates, particularly Mike Pence, ignored her efforts to move on. Susan Page also gave into requests for extra time from the candidates on more than one occasion.

"You have 15 seconds," she told Mike Pence at one point. "I need more than that," he replied and went on to speak for two minutes.

2. Covid-19

Unsurprisingly, the first topic of the night was the coronavirus and Kamala Harris did well here describing the handling of the pandemic as the "greatest failure of any administration in the history of our country".

Asked if she would take a Covid-19 vaccine, she said she would rely on the advice of experts.

"If the health professionals, if Dr Fauci tells us ... then I will be first in line to take it, but if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it then I am not taking it," she said.

Mr Pence defended their response by highlighting the ban on travel from China and accusing Mr Biden of copying his coronavirus plan from the Trump administration.

"Plagiarism is something Joe Biden is familiar with," he said, referring to accusations that Mr Biden plagiarised parts of a speech during a previous run for president back in the late 1980s.

Mike Pence said that Donald Trump trusts the American people to make their own decisions, while Joe Biden wants to impose mandates and restrict freedoms.

3. Unanswered Questions

On a number of occasions, the candidates ignored tricky questions by referring back to a previous point. They were both guilty of it ,but Mr Pence was the greater offender. With a two-minute limit on answers it did not take long to run down the clock.

While Ms Page did a good job as moderator, she failed to use that timeless phrase of interviewers: "You're not answering the question."


A powerful moment of the night came when Mike Pence made reference to Kayla Mueller, an American killed by ISIS in Syria. Her parents were in the audience as guests of Mr Pence.

He accused Joe Biden of failing to rescue her when he was vice president and then went on to highlight that the leader of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed on Donald Trump's watch.

It was a strong point, but Kamala Harris handled it well by pivoting to Donald Trump's disrespectful comments about US soldiers killed in service referring to reports that he called them "losers and suckers".

5. Supreme Court

Mike Pence scored some points here. He repeatedly asked Ms Harris if Mr Biden will pack the Supreme Court, increase the number of justices, if he's elected. Like Joe Biden last week, Senator Harris failed to give a direct answer.

She did however criticise the Republicans' decision to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett so close to an election by pointing out that beloved US president Abraham Lincoln decided against a similar move more than 150 years ago.

6. Donald Trump's Taxes

The topic was the lack of information coming from Donald Trump's doctors following his coronavirus diagnosis. Kamala Harris said Joe Biden would be transparent on his health and transparent on his taxes.

It was an effective segue allowing her to bring up reports that President Trump only paid $750 in taxes in 2016 and again in 2017.

Mr Pence defended his boss by claiming he has handed over stacks of financial records.

7. Economy

Staying on the subject of taxes, Mike Pence repeatedly claimed that Joe Biden would raise taxes on his first day in office. This was denied by Kamala Harris who said there would be no increases for anyone earning under $400,000 a year.

She also accused the Trump administration of losing the trade war with China. Mr Pence responded that Mr Biden had refused to even fight such a trade war, accusing him of being a cheerleader for China.

8. Criminal Justice Reform

Kamala Harris promised that she and Joe Biden would introduce criminal justice reforms such as the banning of chokeholds, which would mean George Floyd would still be alive today.

Mr Pence, predictably, focused on the rioting and looting, making reference to another one of his guests in the audience, a business owner whose premises was destroyed during the recent racial unrest.

He accused Mr Biden and Senator Harris of being weak on law and order, but she was having none of it.

As the former attorney general of California, she was quick to point out that she was the only one on the stage who had spent years prosecuting criminals.

Kamala Harris' image as a tough prosecutor makes it difficult for the Trump campaign to attack her on issues of law and order.

9. The Fly

Social media was abuzz when a fly landed on Mike Pence's head. The black bug stood out on his white hair and it remained there for several minutes. It eventually flew off but by then a star was born.

Within minutes #pencefly was trending, the fly had its own Twitter account and the Biden campaign was selling fly swatters for $10.

As always with debates, both sides claimed victory, but it would be interesting to go behind the scenes to see what they really made of it in Biden HQ and in the West Wing.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

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US Vice Presidential debate strikes civil tone
Fly creates buzz at VP debate - and online