Why Tim Kaine, Mike Pence may be the most important VP candidates in years
The first and only debate between the vice presidential candidates — Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine — may not generate the record viewership or fireworks of last week’s presidential face-off. But what Tuesday night’s VP debate lacks in theatrics, it could make up for in substance, political analysts say.
“It will actually be the kind of debate that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to have my kids watch,” said John J. Pitney Jr., professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College. “You’ve got two well-qualified individuals talking about honest differences on the issues. What a concept.”
Both men boast extensive experience in government, on the state level and in Congress. Pence is governor of Indiana and Kaine is the former governor of Virginia. Pence served more than 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, holding a key Republican leadership position. Meanwhile, Kaine represents Virginia in the U.S. Senate, where he serves on two prominent committees — Foreign Relations and Armed Services.
As infidelity allegations, unpaid taxes, name calling, email problems and health woes dominate headlines about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Pitney said the two VP candidates’ experience is one of the bright spots in the 2016 presidential race.
“The quality of the vice presidential candidates is the sole reassuring element of this entire election,” Pitney said.
Kaine and Pence share something else in common besides lengthy political resumes.
“These two individuals have similar upbringings. They were both born Irish Catholics,” said Renee Van Vechten, associate professor of political science at the University of Redlands.
As a young man, Kaine served as a Catholic missionary in Honduras, and he speaks fluent Spanish. Pence once worked as a Catholic youth minister. He is a born-again Christian and now attends an evangelical church in Indianapolis.
But the debate will most likely highlight their differences, not their similarities.
“You have Pence on the one hand who is extremely conservative. He calls himself a Christian first, then a conservative, then a Republican,” Van Vechten said. “Pence is much more ideologically driven in that he’s known for his strict anti-abortion views.”
Last year Pence signed into law a bill he said was designed to protect religious freedom, but critics maintained it would allow businesses to refuse services to gay couples. After an outcry from Tim Cook, the openly-gay CEO of Apple, the NCAA and celebrities including “Star Trek” alum George Takei, Pence backtracked.
“He had to amend it or there would have been an economic boycott of a lot of businesses in Indiana,” explained political analyst Bill Schneider, visiting professor in communications studies at UCLA.
Kaine, meanwhile, is closer to the other end of the political spectrum.
“In terms of ideology, he is typically seen as a liberal-leaning centrist, and thus may have more appeal to swing voters,” Jennifer Merolla, political science professor at UC Riverside said via email.
“He’s liberal but relatively moderate,” Schneider agreed.
Pence and Kaine will likely spend most of the debate arguing not about their own positions but about those of the presidential candidates: Democratic nominee Clinton and Republican nominee Trump.
“The debate won’t particularly be about Pence and Kaine,” Schneider explained. “I think Kaine will be very aggressive against Trump. That’s the Hillary Clinton line. The best thing the Democratic ticket has going for it is dislike of Donald Trump, so I think that Kaine will join in with that.”
Pitney believes the Republican VP candidate will find a way to deflect attacks on Trump.
“I think what Pence will do on every such question is try to pivot to the areas where their positions are similar and where he can talk about substance rather than the freak show,” he said. “For example if Pence gets a question about Trump’s comments about (former) Miss Universe (Alicia Machado), I’d advise him to pivot quickly to the question of citizenship and immigration — so, moving from a personality question to an issue question.”
Still, many political experts say regardless of what comes up at the vice presidential debate, the event is unlikely to influence many voters.
“You don’t see much impact of a vice presidential debate on a presidential campaign,” Schneider said. “It’s a sideshow.”
But there is at least one significant reason to pay attention to Kaine and Pence.
“In terms of age, this is the oldest match up in presidential history, so it may be more important to focus on the VP candidates than in past presidential elections,” Merolla noted. Trump is 70 and Clinton is 68. At age 57, Pence is a year younger than Kaine.
Van Vechten offered another reason to carefully consider Trump’s running mate.
“He’s going to have a lot of power,” she said. “There is a lot about government and governing that Trump doesn’t have any interest in doing and he’s going to hand that off to his No. 2.”
Source: Matthew Carey, http://www.dailynews.com