Politics

4 questions Kaine and Pence face heading into the VP debate

Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., will face off Tuesday evening during this campaign's only vice presidential debate, at Longwood University in Farmville, Va.
Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., will face off Tuesday evening during this campaign's only vice presidential debate, at Longwood University in Farmville, Va.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

This evening’s face-off between the 2016 vice presidential hopefuls certainly won’t have the pizzazz — or inevitable enmity — that last week’s debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence are two mild-mannered, affable politicians who will certainly present themselves differently than their running mates. Moderator Elaine Quijano of CBS News will try to engage them in their only debate, at Longwood University in rural Farmville, Va., but ultimately their sparring is likely to revolve as much around the principal candidates as around the vice presidential contenders themselves.

Here are four questions each man faces ahead of the 6 p.m. PT debate Tuesday, followed by some key facts to know about each candidate.

4 questions the candidates face

1. Does anyone know who they are?

This is the first time the vast majority of Americans will even lay eyes on either Pence or Kaine. According to an ABC News poll, 41 percent of Americans couldn’t name the GOP vice presidential candidate and 46 percent couldn’t name the Democratic one.

Ultimately, that won’t matter. Their job is not to debate each other — it’s to score points against the presidential candidate on the other side. And although this will be the biggest audience either has ever had, the debate is not about them, or even their own readiness to be president. It’s all about Clinton and Trump.

2. Will we see the opposite of the presidential debates?

This is a year when the running mates are almost completely overshadowed by the outsize personalities at the top of the ticket. Kaine and Pence don’t have the sky-high negative ratings that Clinton or Trump have, and they haven’t generated anything close to the interest or controversy of past vice presidential candidates (like Sarah Palin in 2008).

In fact, the two men couldn’t be more different from their running mates in many ways. Pence is as smooth and disciplined as his running mate is bombastic and unpredictable. Last week he introduced himself as “kind of a B-list Republican celebrity.” Meanwhile, Kaine is as amiable and as authentic (and sometimes even a little goofy) as Clinton is scripted.

Both have also broken with the past role of vice presidential candidates as “attack dogs” — willing to deliver the barbs that their running mates won’t engage in. That’s partly because both Kaine and Pence are even-tempered politicians with sunny dispositions. Pence even publicly rejected negative campaigning on moral grounds and promised never to engage in personal attacks — quite the opposite of Trump.

Both Clinton and Trump have shown they’re more than willing to engage in the knife fights often left to the vice presidential picks. So maybe this time, just maybe, the vice presidential debates could be a little more substantive than the first presidential debate was last week.

3. How will each deal with his running mate’s controversies?

Kaine has the task of trying to make Clinton seem more honest, trustworthy and likable than most voters think she is. He could also be asked to explain why she took paid speeches from Wall Street or set up her controversial private email server at the State Department.

But Kaine’s task pales in comparison to Pence’s burden, akin to a “clean up on aisle 7.” Pence has repeatedly tried to sand down Trump’s rough edges, but he hasn’t always been in sync with the top of his ticket.

On climate change, for example, Pence has said he believes human activity does play a role in global warming. Trump has said that climate change is a Chinese hoax (though he falsely denied tweeting that at the debate last week). Pence could also be asked to explain why Donald Trump lost almost a billion dollars in a business deal that may have helped him avoid taxes for almost two decades, according to a New York Times report over the weekend. And he’ll also surely be asked about Trump’s decision to double down on comments about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado after last week’s debate and to bring up former President Bill Clinton’s infidelities — and to even suggest over the weekend that Hillary Clinton may not have been faithful to her husband.

Remember: Pence, who is just 57 and has long been seen as a rising GOP star, has his own political future to think about, and it will be worth watching to see how he deals with Trump’s myriad self-inflicted wounds.

4. What will the VP debate accomplish?

Pence and Kaine could set the stage for the next presidential debate, which will be held this Sunday, Oct. 9, in St. Louis, by delivering new lines of attack for their principals to use. Pence could deliver Trump’s anti-status quo message of change without the stream-of-consciousness distractions. Kaine could help Clinton lay out the positive message for herself that she’s struggled to articulate.

Past vice presidential debates haven’t had much of an effect on the outcome of elections, but they do matter. The most memorable moment in recent vice presidential debates was in 1988 when Texas Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen told Indiana GOP Sen. Dan Quayle he was “no Jack Kennedy.” Quayle went on to win the election and serve as vice president with George H.W. Bush, but his ambitions for higher office probably died that night on the debate stage. Both Kaine and Pence are young and, win or lose in this campaign, would like to have years in politics ahead of them.

— Mara Liasson/NPR

5 things to know about Mike Pence

Mike Pence has been governor of Indiana since 2013. Before that, he served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has called Pence a “good movement conservative” and considers him a good friend. “I’ve very high regard for him,” Ryan said when Pence was chosen as Trump’s running mate, an indicator that putting Pence on the ticket might have been an olive branch from the Trump campaign to more traditional conservatives.

Here are five other things to know about Gov. Pence ahead of Tuesday’s debate:

1. ‘A Christian, a conservative, and a Republican — in that order’

Pence is a born-again Christian — he became one in college — and has put his religion in the foreground of his political persona.

“For me it all begins with faith. It begins with what matters most, and I try and put what I believe to be moral truth first. My philosophy of government second. And my politics third,” Pence said in a 2010 appearance on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

And religion has indeed played a large part in his policy decisions.

One notable example is his strong opposition to abortion. While serving in the House in 2011, he introduced an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood because the women’s health organization provides abortion services.

This March, as governor of Indiana, Pence signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. The law bans abortions due to fetal abnormalities and also requires aborted fetuses — and those from miscarriage — to be buried or cremated.

Women in Indiana protested the law by calling or tweeting at the governor’s office to tell him about their periods, in an effort dubbed “Periods For Pence.”

2. ‘Rush Limbaugh on decaf’

Trump and Pence, while different in temperament, have something in common: both men have hosted TV shows.

In the 1990s, Pence hosted a Sunday TV show in Indianapolis and also had a radio talk show called “The Mike Pence Show.” He described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf,” meaning while a conservative, he was not as bombastic as the popular Limbaugh, who hosts his own talk show.

 

On his show, Pence discussed the week’s news and also his conservative values. In a video from 1997 published this year by Politico, Pence discussed Kelly Flinn, who was the country’s first female B–52 pilot. She had just been discharged from the Air Force for disobeying an order to end an affair and for lying under oath about doing so.

On the show, Pence discussed the “normalization of adultery” and “whether or not it was time to rethink this whole business of women in the military.”

3. ‘Confessions of a negative campaigner’

After losing early campaigns for Congress, Pence wrote an essay apologizing for running negative ads against an opponent, Rep. Phillip Sharp. The Indianapolis Star has reported Pence “swore off harsh political tactics.” In the essay, Pence called for “basic human decency.”

In July, Pence and Trump sat down for a joint interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” Interviewer Lesley Stahl asked Pence how he felt about some of Trump’s attacks on his opponents, specifically referencing “Lyin’ Ted,” Trump’s nickname for his last-standing primary opponent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Pence replied:

“In the essay that I wrote a long time ago, I said campaigns ought to be about something more important than just one candidate’s election. And… and this campaign and Donald Trump’s candidacy has been about the issues the American people care about.”

Trump added that the two men are different people and he doesn’t ask Pence to be negative.

“It’s probably obvious to people that our styles are different. But I promise you, our vision is exactly the same,” Pence added.

4. He gained notoriety for the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In 2015, he signed into law a controversial “religious freedom” bill, which spurred wide backlash. Critics said the bill could allow business owners to ban LGBT customers based on a claim of religious freedom.

After “business, civic and sports leaders … strongly called for a fix to the legislation,” USA Today noted, Pence later signed a revised version of the law.

But Pence appeared to back the bill in an interview on Fox in March 2015.

“Well let me say first and foremost, I stand by this law,” he said. “But I understand that the way that some on the left, and frankly some in the national media, have mischaracterized this law over the last week might make it necessary for us to clarify the law through legislation. And we were working through the day and into the night last night with legislative leaders to consider ways to do that.”

5. He supported the Iraq War.

Although his running mate has denied his own early support of the Iraq War, Pence was in Congress at the time and voted in favor of authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

In a 2002 interview with CNN leading up to the vote, Pence emphasized that there was “overwhelming evidence… to suggest a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda,” which ended up not being the case.

When Trump was asked for his opinion on Pence’s 2002 vote on “60 Minutes,” he answered, “He’s entitled to make a mistake every once in awhile.”

When Pence was asked on Fox News this year about the vote, he said, “I think that’s for historians to debate. I supported President Bush’s decision to go into Iraq, as well as to go into Afghanistan. I traveled downrange for 10 years in a row to visit our soldiers in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. I stood strongly through both of them.”

— Meg Anderson and Domenico Montanaro/NPR

5 things to know about Tim Kaine

Tim Kaine is a political veteran who has served at nearly every level of government. He’s a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and has been a mayor, governor, and senator. President Obama nearly picked him in 2008, but this time he got the job. He has been seen as a safe choice in an anything-but-traditional election year.

Kaine himself joked about his scandal-free background on “Meet The Press” in June, saying, “I am boring … but boring is the fastest-growing demographic in this country.”

Here’s what you need to know about the Virginia senator going into the vice presidential debate.

1. He has never lost an election.

Trump And Pence Face Divide On Women’s Health And LGBT Issues
Kaine started out as a lawyer in Richmond, Va., where he spent years suing landlords for discrimination against African-Americans, but his political career began on the Richmond City Council in 1994. He was later elected by the council to be the city’s mayor. In 2001, Kaine was elected as Virginia’s lieutenant governor and in 2005 he won election as governor. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012.

Kaine’s rise through the political world has been steady and, in some cases, with a hint of luck: He won his Senate seat four years ago when incumbent Jim Webb, a first-term senator, did not seek re-election. Kaine got the Democratic Party’s nomination after no other Democrats filed to run.

Kaine’s opponent in that election, former Sen. George Allen, ran attack ads linking Kaine to President Obama while Kaine’s campaign focused on a positive message.

2. He is fluent in Spanish.

Kaine learned Spanish while living in Honduras in 1980 during a year off from law school. He worked at a technical school with Jesuit missionaries.

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In 2013, Kaine spoke in Spanish for almost 13 minutes on the Senate floor advocating for an immigration bill crafted by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight.”

It marked the first time a senator gave a speech on the floor in a language that was not English, although others have spoken briefly in Spanish before.

In the speech, Kaine said he felt it was appropriate to speak in his second language because Spanish is “spoken by more than 40 million Americans with a huge investment in the result of this debate.”

On the campaign trail, Kaine has been teaching crowds how to say “Ready for Hillary” in Spanish.

3. He is an avid supporter of gun control.

Like his running mate, Kaine supports expanded gun control legislation, having served as Virginia’s governor during the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. In June, Kaine held the floor with other Senate Democrats for 15 hours to advocate for gun control legislation. On the floor, he spoke of his experience in the aftermath of the shooting:

“That was the worst day of my life, and it will always be the worst day of my life — comforting the families of the victims, talking to the first responders who went into a classroom where bodies littered the floor and who heard in the pockets of deceased students and professors cell phones ringing as parents who had seen it on the news were calling their kids, just knowing they were at Virginia Tech to ask them if they were all right — calls that would never be answered.”

Although a gun owner himself, he has said he supports “common sense legislation” to expand background checks, restrict assault-style weapons and expand mental health services.

4. He has focused his time in Congress on the military

Kaine son’s is an active-duty Marine, which makes Kaine one of just a few members of Congress who have a child serving in the military.

In 2014, Kaine met with Virginia veterans at a momentous time in his son’s military career, according to the Culpeper Star Exponent. “My son is an infantry officer who takes control of his first platoon Monday so these are issues that matter to me personally,” he said.

Where Tim Kaine And Hillary Clinton Stand On Key Issues
Kaine has focused on military and foreign policy in Congress, serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee. In an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Kaine attacked Trump for criticizing the military.

“When I hear Donald Trump say the American military is a disaster, I want to go through the screen and shake the guy,” Kaine said in the interview. “We ought to have a commander in chief who talks about our troops with respect and gratitude.”

He has been critical of the Obama administration for not seeking re-authorization from Congress in the fight against ISIS. The administration has been using a 2001 use-of-force authorization to allow the American military to engage the terrorist group.

As NPR has reported, the original law authorizing military force was signed in 2001 and gave the president the power to use force against groups which aided the September 11 attacks, not terrorists in general.

That’s a point where Clinton and Kaine disagree. During a November debate on CBS, when asked whether she would declare war on ISIS, Clinton said the U.S. already has “an authorization to use military force against terrorists” that we passed after 9/11. When asked if that covers ISIS, she said yes: “It certainly does cover it.”

5. He considers himself a traditional Catholic

Kaine has called himself a “traditional Catholic,” and says he personally opposes abortion. However, the senator said in a June “Meet The Press” interview that he doesn’t let his personal beliefs affect his position on the issue. He said he believes the decision of whether or not to have an abortion shouldn’t be dictated by the government:

“I deeply believe, and not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

In August 2015, Kaine voted against defunding Planned Parenthood. In a statement at the time, he said that for many women, “Planned Parenthood health centers are their only source of high quality health care.”

…And he plays the harmonica.

Kaine is a self-professed “harmonica enthusiast.” He has played the instrument for over two decades, according to Roll Call, and has been known to make appearances with it on and off the campaign trail.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Kaine joked that his harmonica is actually a safety net. “In politics you’ve got to have a fallback in our line of work because your career can be over in an instant,” Kaine told the Post. “Not that I would make much money playing a harmonica.”

But he also told the Post that he’s not very good.

“I’ve had people comment less than favorably on my quality. My wife is the most honest,” Kaine said. “She says, ‘Hey, you ought to play anytime they ask you because as soon as you’re not in elected office, they’re not going to ask you anymore.’”

— Meg Anderson/NPR