AS IT HAPPENED: Harris vs. Pence Vice Presidential Debate Snooze-Fest

Harris vs. Pence VP debate was respectfully quiet. A real snooze-fest of American politics. Here's the full report. 

Good evening from Salt Lake City.

A small supplemental pool will be seated at the back of Kingsbury Hall, the venue for tonight's vice presidential debate. The venue is the performing arts center on the University of Utah campus and opened in 1930.

The stage is set up with three desks and chairs set about 12 feet apart for the two candidates and the moderator, separated by plexiglass screens. A ring of stars set in the carpet encircles that desk. A passage from the Declaration of Independence forms part of the backdrop and the debate seal — an eagle with the legend "The Union and the Constitution forever" — hangs from the ceiling.

Some 20 seats for guests are set up in front of the stage, at least 6 ft apart.
 
Behind that seating is theatre-style, with rows of seats left empty, "Thank you for not sitting here in observance of social distancing."

The University of Utah held a ticket lottery for students, with 60 lucky winners allocated a seat.

Tickets for the event come with instructions for the audience, including:

"In order not to detract from the live televised event for the many millions of people watching the broadcast, live audience members shall refrain from expressing approval or disapproval of events on stage as the debate unfolds."

The ticket also says members of the audience will not hold the Commission on Presidential Debates or the event host liable for any sickness including COVID-19.

Attendees and media set up outside in a tented filing center all had to undergo a Covid test before being granted a green "Utah Utes" wristband that permitted entry inside the debate perimeter.

The pool was able to interview a number of guests queuing outside. All are wearing salmon-colored surgical masks issued by the university. These were all winners in the student lottery. Each is lined up on socially distanced taped marks as venue doors open just after 17:30. Piles of packs of hand sanitizers are just inside the door.
 
Michelle Pedersen, 44, studying a DMA in opera performance and who has performed on the stage here
"I'm excited to have an opportunity to be here and experience something like this.
"It will be incredibly memorable because we have a female, who is going to be fabulous, up there tonight."
 
Juliette Ainsworth, 40, from France, on worries about COVID-19.
"I'm worried about the future but not for the debate tonight. I think everybody has been taken care of."
 
Justin Ravago, 19, undergraduate reading business economics from Boise, Idaho
 
"I'm looking for a proper sort of debate. Last week was not so great. 
"I want to hear what they have to say rather than a crossfire of words."
 
Said he was not worried about COVID risk.
"I feel like everything is really distanced. 
"I think they would have taken more than 60 students if they could," but had sensibly limited attendance.

***

VP has been tweeting videos of his surprise guests tonight.
They are:
Flora Westbrooks, whose hair studio was destroyed in unrest in Minneapolis
Parents of Kayla Mueller
Ann Dorn, widow of a retired police officer killed in St Louis violence after killing of George Floyd

A couple of guests have taken their seats on the Pence side. Pool thinks it is the Muellers. Photographers are down on the floor so look out for pictures to confirm.

***

VP's office says VP motorcade arrived at Kingsbury Hall at 18:16.
 
Spotted just in front of pool is Utah Gov Gary Herbert and wife Jeannette.
 
He said everyone had been tested, were wearing masks and were distanced.
"I think they have done everything they needed to do and probably more to make sure there's a safe environment for not just the debate participants but the audience and everyone working here."
 
" I certainly feel safe."

***

VP's brother Rep Greg Pence is sitting in front row of circle.
"I'm certain America is going to see my brother at his best."
Program of events is just starting now with some housekeeping rules. Guests all seated by looks of it.

***

Moderator Susan Paige took stage at 18:55. Again addressed audience with a plea for silence except when the two candidates take stage and then when the debate ends, when audience can applaud.
 
The two candidates enter at 19:04 MDT to applause. Pence enters from right, Harris from left. They both wave and then sit down.

 

***

Audience is respectfully quiet until the moment moderator Susan Paige calls on "Kamala Harris" before correcting herself to "Senator Harris".
Harris waves her off, saying no she is indeed Kamala Harris
Giggles briefly roll around the auditorium.

***

Harris: "Mr Vice President I'm speaking, I'm speaking."
The audience at the back of the circle are mostly students who won tickets in lottery. Some gentle murmurs of support as Harris objects to Pence talking over her.

***

Debate ends and candidates stand from their desks at 20:33 as audience applauds and stands. Spouses join candidate on stage at either side of stage to wave.
 
The two candidates exchanged some words at a distance but pool could not hear what they were. Each couple left at opposite sides.

***

Snap views from the audiance: 

Ola Jordhein, 23, engineering student from Norway

“In my opinion Kamala Harris had the best responses. I was pleasantly surprised by Pence, he gave some good answers but I think he fell down on the climate.

“And he’s better at making his point than necessarily answering the questions.”

Olivia Anderson, 18, politics major

“It was a lot more muted that the presidential debate.

Said memorable question was the final one about politicians getting along

“It was inspiring to hear how they could but still get along.”

“I believe Senator Harris won because she spoke from her heart and followed the facts and the record particularly when it came to the coronavirus response.”
 

 

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