Given the startling events of the past week, however, the upcoming debate may get more scrutiny and interest.
The hospitalization of President Donald Trump for Covid-19 and the advanced age of both presidential candidates (Trump is 74, Joe Biden is 77) has shined a light on how quickly the understudies could be thrust into the starring role. Trump’s illness has caused scholars and journalists to publicly explore the 25th Amendment to the Constitution — and what happens when a President becomes incapacitated.
And that is the lens through which voters may view Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris when they take the stage in Utah Wednesday night. They will be performing the traditional role as advocates for their principals, for sure. But they also will be measured more seriously than in the past as potential presidents in their own right.
The debate also will be historic in another respect, featuring the first woman of color ever to take the vice presidential debate stage. The contrast between Harris, a Californian and daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, and Pence, a White evangelical former talk show host from Indiana, will define the great and growing cultural divide in our politics.
Even before the President’s illness, Covid-19 and the administration’s handling of it were likely to be front and center on Wednesday. Pence has chaired the President’s coronavirus task force and will have to answer for the tumultuous and often contradictory path the President has taken in dealing with the virus.
But Harris faces unique challenges posed by expectations and bias.
Harris enters the debate in the reverse position. Much is expected of the charismatic US senator, a skilled interlocutor who debated frequently during her own campaign for the Democratic nomination.
She also faces the same double standard women contenders do about tone when they bring strong attacks.
But this vice presidential debate will be different than any that have proceeded it.
Americans will not just be weighing arguments. Now, more than ever, they will be closely evaluating these contenders as potential occupants of the Oval Office.