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With plenty of strong, yet cordial, statements at the 2020 vice-presidential debate came subtle plugs that might have gone unnoticed between the plexiglass. Here are three motifs from both Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris that are deftly influential.
Fracking: Pence, almost at the risk of sounding like a broken record, hammered home the key Republican campaign stance on fracking several times. This was no accident. Fracking for natural gas is a large industry in rural Pennsylvania, a swing state that is necessary for both former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, and President Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, to win in November. He was reaching out to voters there tonight.
Prayer: The vice president’s first response to a question about Trump’s health was thanking Americans across the country for their prayers. As much as Pence needed to help swing undecided and independent voters tonight, he also needed to make sure he fed Trump’s base. This was a targeted line, backed by Pence’s own faith, to tell evangelical voters that he and Trump have their backs.
"What transfer of power?": It was right at the end, after the fly (that will get all the attention from tonight) landed on his head. So many people may have missed the fact that the sitting vice president of the United States dodged a question about whether or not he would support a peaceful transfer of power if they lost, just like the president did last week.
Toilet paper: Harris is strong debater, especially when she is using prepared lines. This was clearly a prepared line, but one that was used excellently. Everyone remembers the panic when COVID-19 stay-at-home orders set in; no one knew if they would be able to get the supplies they needed. This was a line that brought back those emotional moments for millions of Americans — and it was her best point on the coronavirus because it was the most relatable.
Foreign policy and friendships: How many Americans can get into a detailed debate on the nuts and bolts of foreign policy? Not many. Harris used that to her advantage, comparing relations with other countries to dealing with friends. You keep your words to your friends; you keep a cautious eye on your enemy. She clearly outlined why Trump cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and pushing against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is bad.
Looking into the camera: I know, this one seems really silly. But Harris looking directly into the camera versus Pence, who spent a lot of his time speaking to the moderator, Susan Page, made her come off like she was speaking directly to voters. Body language matters. Harris talking to the camera matters for the same reason the fly on Pence's head matters: It creates a perception for interpretation by voters.
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