Donald Trump’s campaign would surely like to forget the last week of September ever happened. A widely-panned debate performance begot a running feud with a former Miss Universe. Then, as post-debate polls showed the candidate slipping, a blockbuster story in the New York Times pulled back the curtain on the candidate’s past business failings.
Enter Mike Pence.
On Tuesday night, Trump’s running mate will get a rare turn in the spotlight, facing off against Hillary Clinton’s second, Sen. Tim Kaine, in the latter’s home state of Virginia.
Political analysts expect Pence, who prepared for the debate alongside Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who played Kaine, to hew to be both an advocate for Trump, and an attack dog against Clinton.
At a pre-debate tune up rally here in rural Virginia, Pence is largely an unknown figure. Among attendees interviewed by WUSA9, none could name a specific policy or position taken by Pence that they appreciated. His value was defined purely in terms of how he could support the top of the ticket.
“I think he needs to focus more on what they would do instead of bashing Hillary and things like that,” Trump supporter April Steeley said.
Pence’s opponent, former Virginia governor and current senator Tim Kaine, also spent significant time in traditional debate preparation leading up to Tuesday – including several days off the trail last week in which he huddled with advisers and Pence stand-in Bob Barnett in North Carolina.
On Sunday, Kaine described his debate prep as “intense,” but seemed loose and cheerful while speaking to reporters outside his Richmond church.
For Kaine, the debate is a home game. The Longwood University campus is only an hour or so from his hometown of Richmond. With Clinton maintaining a comfortable lead in most polls of Virginia, the pressure on Kaine will likely be less than that on Pence, who the Trump campaign needs to make up ground.
A federal court handed Kaine fresh ammunition to take on his counterpart on Monday, striking down an Indiana effort to block settlement of Syrian refugees there, saying Pence’s actions were based on “nightmare speculation.”