When Mike Pence takes the stage Tuesday night in Farmville, Virginia, the Republican vice presidential nominee will have the opportunity to do something Donald Trump didn’t really do during last week’s presidential debate: prosecute a case against the return of the Clintons to the White House.
It’s possible that the debate between Pence, the Indiana GOP governor, and Tim Kaine, the Virginia Democratic senator, will just be one big, mild-mannered snoozefest. Neither Pence nor Kaine draw attention like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton usually do — and the ratings on television will reflect that.
But if he goes on offense, Pence, a former conservative radio and television host who sticks to talking points, has plenty of material to work with: Hillary Clinton’s emails and the FBI were only briefly covered in the first presidential debate; there was hardly, if any, discussion of the Clinton Foundation, the Benghazi attacks, her foreign policy stances while serving as secretary of state or her move to the left on a variety of political issues.
The question is whether Pence will get the opportunity. Trump may have planned to go after Clinton harder during their debate, but he ended up spending a lot of the 90 minute showdown playing defense. The moderator, Lester Holt, didn’t bring up many of Clinton’s vulnerabilities — a reminder that Pence might have to be proactive and bring up those issues himself.
“Does Pence get the chance to stay on message and consistently prosecute the case against Hillary Clinton?” asked Phillip Stutts, the CEO of the Republican digital media firm Go BIG Media. “Or does Tim Kaine just continue to throw sort of rhetorical bombs at him based on things that Trump has said?”
Speaking of Kaine, Stutts said: “You know they’re going to play the women card. You know they’re going to play the race card. And how does Pence handle that and then move forward with prosecuting that case? I think that’s the real key there. Even a seasoned debater can get tripped up by the amount of research that the Clinton campaign is going to have and want to use against Pence.”
The debate between the two running mates will be moderated by Elaine Quijano of CBS News. It is taking place at Longwood University.
Republicans laid the groundwork for Pence to go after Kaine’s record: on Monday, the Republican National Committee released a video attacking the Democrat as soft on crime, setting up a potential debate on the death penalty.
“Long before Kaine was in office, he consistently protected the worst kinds of people,” the ad’s narrator said.
As for debate prep, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is playing the part of Kaine during Pence’s debate practice sessions while Washington lawyer Robert Barnett has stood in for Pence during Kaine’s rehearsals, according to press reports.