World

US V-P debate takes on added significance after Trump gets Covid-19

WASHINGTON: US Vice-President Mike Pence and challenger Kamala Harris will be separated by a plexiglass barrier during their debate today in an effort to lower the risk of transmission, the commission overseeing the event said.

The debate, the only one scheduled between the vice-presidential candidates, is scheduled for Salt Lake City, six days after President Donald Trump announced he had contracted the virus.

Both Ms Harris, a Democratic US senator, and Mr Pence, a Republican, have tested negative in recent days, with the Vice-President working from home over the weekend instead of at the White House.

The debate has taken on some significance, with questions about Mr Trump's health now looming over the US election less than a month away.

The pressure on Mr Pence, who often toils in Mr Trump's deep shadow, is great.

Mr Trump trails Mr Biden by 10 percentage points nationally, according to a new Reuters/ Ipsos poll, with voters faulting the President's carelessness about the pandemic.

Mr Pence needs to show the public he is ready to step in as president if the situation requires, while also defending the Trump administration's handling of a seven-month-old health crisis that has killed nearly 210,000 Americans.

For her part, Ms Harris must demonstrate to voters that she, too, could assume the presidency if needed at some point in the 77-year-old Biden's tenure should he win the election.

AFTERTHOUGHT

Traditionally, the vice-presidential debate is considered an afterthought to the three presidential debates, watched by fewer voters and viewed as almost irrelevant in terms of shifting public opinion.

"This debate is different," said Mr Christopher Devine, an expert on the vice-presidency at the University of Dayton.

"Some people may be worrying about Mike Pence and how he may perform if called upon. And there are questions about Joe Biden's ability to stay healthy."

Mr Trump, 74, returned to the White House on Monday following a three-day stay in hospital. While doctors say he is recovering, it remains uncertain when he will be able to resume campaign activities.

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said on Monday the President intended to participate in the next scheduled debate with Biden on Oct 15 in Miami. - REUTERS

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