Mike Pence vs. Tim Kaine: Why This Debate Really Counts
Election 2016

Mike Pence vs. Tim Kaine: Why This Debate Really Counts


For potential vice presidents, second-string life begins on the campaign trail as they mold their message to the policies of the nominees who picked them and try not to steal their candidates’ thunder.

Even Lyndon Johnson, the Senate Majority Leader whose imposing personality reigned over Capitol Hill, was in the background when he was the running mate of Senator John F. Kennedy whose youth and glamour-soaked up most of the spotlight in the election of 1960.

<strong<Related: Five Debate Moments that Changed Elections

Recent exceptions are the late Geraldine Ferraro, who was defeated along with Walter Mondale in the election of 1984, and Sarah Palin.

Ferraro and Palin received a lot of attention because there had never been a woman Veep, and former Alaska Governor Palin got even more notice because of her brash demeanor and apparent lack of preparation for national office. Moreover, because of the tension between Palin and the man at the top of the 2008 GOP ticket, Senator John McCain, she violated one of the cardinal rules of vice-presidential candidates: First, do no harm.

Of course, Palin was not the only Veep-to-be who wound up in the hot lights and damaged a ticket.

Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri momentarily took center stage in the election of 1972 as the running mate of George McGovern when it was revealed that he had wrestled with mental health problems and undergone electric shock therapy. He was replaced 18 days after he was selected, but not before he hurt the already dim chances that McGovern would be elected

And George H.W. Bush’s running mate, Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana brought scorn down on the 1992 Republican ticket when he corrected a schoolboy’s spelling of “potato,” urging him to add an “e.”

This election year, with the constant notoriety of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – both globally famous before the campaign – the undercard seems more under than ever.

Related: Trump Was Unprepared and Out of His Depth on Debate Stage

But in the only debate between the vice presidential candidates on October 4, America will get a chance to take the full measure of Mike Pence, the running mate of GOP nominee Donald Trump, and Tim Kaine, the Veep choice of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

No one expects the debate to draw the record 84 million viewers who watched the first matchup between Trump and Clinton (there are two more) on Sept. 26. But because the nominees at the top of both tickets are so widely disliked, the Veep choices next in line to be president may get closer scrutiny.

Here is how they match up:

Age: 58
Birthplace: Minnesota
Religion: Roman Catholic
Ancestry: Mostly Irish
Education: BA economics, U. of Missouri; JD, Harvard Law School
Military Service: None, but one son is a Marine officer
Current Job: U.S. Senator from Virginia
Occupation: Career politician
Politics: Centrist Democrat
Ethics: As governor of Virginia, he accepted $160,000 worth of gifts (including an $18,000 Caribbean vacation), which was legal under the state’s permissive ethics laws.
Fun Fact: Took Time off from Harvard Law School to run a Jesuit school in Honduras.

Age: 57
Birthplace: Indiana
Religion: Roman Catholic originally, now Evangelical Christian
Ancestry: Mostly Irish
Education: BA Hanover College, JD Indiana University School of Law
Military Service: None, but one son is a Marine officer
Current Job: Governor of Indiana
Occupation: Politician, talk show host
Politics: Social and fiscal Conservative
Ethics: In 1990 as a 31-year-old running for Congress, Pence used campaign donations to make mortgage and car payments, service credit card bills, buy groceries and for golf tournament fees, which was legal at the time, according to The Washington Post.
Fun Fact: As a talk show host he called himself “Russ Limbaugh on decaf.”

Related" The Most Important Point Clinton Made in Her Debate Against Trump

Apart from their politics, both Pence and Kaine seem to have a lot in common on paper. They are about the same age, both are originally Midwesterners of largely Irish ancestry, both began life as Catholics, both are lawyers, both have spent the bulk of their careers in politics and both have sons in the Marines.

Unlike either Trump or Clinton, both have experience as government executives. Pence is the governor of Indiana; Kaine was the governor of Virginia. And because neither one seems to have the blood lust gene, they haven’t been the attack dogs that nominees often want to unleash.

Trump has left that role to surrogates like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. And Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whose relationship with Clinton has sometimes been frosty, has repeatedly gone after the GOP nominee.

Pence arguably has had the more difficult job being second banana, and he has gently broken with Trump during the campaign. While Trump initially held off endorsing the re-election bid of GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan, Pence did not. And Pence is probably partially responsible for ending Trump’s press blacklist.

In the past, Pence also has been a full-throated supporter of the trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that Trump rails against, but like Kaine, he is a good soldier and now lines up with his commander.

Tuesday night, they both will have the same mission: Demonstrate that they are solid, strong and up to the job of filling a president’s shoes, forcefully brush back attacks on their running mates, and most of all, do no harm.