Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris get their turn in the spotlight at the Oct. 7 vice presidential debate.
While vice presidential candidates try to keep the focus on the top of the ticket, the debate still gives voters a chance to learn more about the understudies for the top job.
Here’s a comparison of Pence, the Republican, and Harris, the Democrat.
Pence is known for staying on message, especially if there’s a question he doesn’t want to directly answer. Harris employed her background as a prosecutor in going after opponents during the Democratic presidential debates or when grilling congressional witnesses.
About equal shares of people surveyed by Gallup at the beginning of September had a favorable view of Harris (42%) as those who viewed her unfavorably (43%). Fifteen percent didn’t know who she is or had no opinion. Pence is slightly better known than Harris: 9% didn’t know him or had no opinion. But 50% of those who were familiar with him had an unfavorable view compared with 41% with a favorable opinion.
Pence has long been easily recognized by his helmet of closely-cropped white hair, which started to turn grey at an early age.
Harris likes to go casual down low with Chuck Taylor shoes and elegant up top with a pearl necklace.
Pence loves to talk about his maternal grandfather, with whom he was close, who immigrated to the United States from Ireland. Harris is the daughter of immigrants: Shyamala Gopalan, a breast-cancer scientist who immigrated from India, and Donald Harris, a professor of economics who immigrated from Jamaica.
Pence was raised in a devout Irish Catholic family and considered becoming a priest. Instead, he went to college, where he became a born-again Christian. He introduces himself as a “Christian, a conservative and a Republican – in that order.”
During her childhood, Harris attended services at both a Black Baptist church and a Hindu temple. She identifies as a Baptist but honored her interfaith roots in her civil marriage ceremony officiated by her sister. Harris hung a flower garland around Emhoff’s neck to symbolize her Indian heritage. Emhoff stomped a glass following Jewish wedding tradition.
Pence was sworn into office with his hand resting on both his family Bible that he tries to study daily and the Reagan family Bible. Ronald Reagan, the politician who inspired Pence to become a Republican, used the Bible for his inaugurations with the book opened to an underlined verse that Pence often quotes: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
Harris has taken her oaths of office using a Bible that belonged to Regina Shelton, a nursery school teacher who became a second mother to her. Harris has written that she was introduced to the Bible, sitting next to Shelton in church as a child. “My earliest memories were of a loving God, a God who asked us to ‘speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves’ and to ‘defend the rights of the poor and needy,’” Harris wrote in her memoir, “The Truths We Hold.”
Before Pence became vice president, he served four years as Indiana’s governor and 12 years in the U.S. House. Before Harris’ election to the Senate in 2016, she’d served six years as California’s attorney general. She was first elected to public office as San Francisco’s city attorney in 2003.
Pence considered running for president in 2012 and 2016 but decided on gubernatorial races instead. Harris sought the 2020 Democratic nomination but folded her campaign before the first ballots were cast.
Job before politics
Pence, who briefly practiced law, was primarily a radio talk show host and head of a conservative think tank before being elected to Congress. Harris, who also has a law degree, worked for district attorneys in California before being elected city attorney of San Francisco.
Pence, who once served as Democratic youth coordinator for his county, embraced the GOP as an adult largely because he heard in Ronald Reagan “the manifestation of the kind of traditional American ideals that I was raised to believe in.”
Harris frequently mentions the “stroller’s-eye view” she had of the civil rights movement, as her parents marched for social justice – a central part of family discussions. She’s written that she was inspired to become a prosecutor in part because of the prosecutors who went after the Ku Klux Klan and because of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who sent Justice Department officials to protect the Freedom Riders in 1961.
Both vice presidential candidates have had a heavy focus on core constituencies. Pence’s recent campaign trips have included many events with religious conservatives. He’s also starred in the “Life Wins” multi-state campaign of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List.
Harris has been dispatched to energize voters of color, particularly Black Americans. The first candidate on a major party ticket to have attended a historically Black university, Harris has been campaigning at HBCUs, barbershops and other places of significance for communities of color.
Reasons for being chosen
Pence served as a bridge to social conservatives and members of the GOP establishment who were wary of Donald Trump. He’s also been a calmer, steadier and more predictable communicator than Trump. But he still had to endure endless speculation about whether Trump would keep him on the 2020 ticket, even as Trump praised the pick of Pence as “one of the best decisions I ever made.”
As Biden was securing the Democratic nomination over Sen. Bernie Sanders, he promised to pick a woman as his running mate. He faced tremendous pressure to choose a woman of color because of the large role African Americans – and particularly Black women – have played in the Democratic Party and because of the racial issues thrust into the foreground through the coronavirus pandemic and the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police. Announcing his choice, Biden called Harris a “fearless fighter for the little guy, one of the country’s finest public servants.”
Pence is a strong fiscal and social conservative who led an influential group of House conservatives while serving in Congress and represented the GOP-leaning state of Indiana as governor. In his book, former National Security Adviser John Bolton depicted Pence as an ally in Bolton’s attempts to take hard lines against oppressive regimes while Trump sought to cut deals and appease totalitarian leaders.
Harris has sided with fellow Senate Democrats nearly 100% of the time on party-line votes, according to Congressional Quarterly. She struggled in the presidential primary to place herself in an ideological camp, particularly on how far she would go to enact Medicare for All. She also faced criticism from some on the left for her prosecutorial record.
Voters surveyed in a mid-September Morning Consult poll rated Pence as being farther from the ideological center than Harris.
Criticisms of each other
Pence has criticized Harris for voting against a trade deal with Canada and Mexico, for supporting changing dietary guidelines to reduce the consumption of red meat, for asking a judicial nominee about his membership in the Catholic Knights of Columbus fraternal organization and for saying she wouldn’t trust Trump’s assurance on the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Harris has gone after Pence’s record on LGBTQ issues, his practice of not eating alone with a woman other than his wife, and his resistance to cooperating with the congressional investigation of Trump’s involvement in Ukraine.
Pence rides horses every chance he gets. “I think riding horses is really the only place he truly relaxes,” Karen Pence said in 2018. Her husband likes to quote Reagan in saying, ‘The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.’”
Harris loves to cook. One of her favorite routines is Sunday family dinner, a practice she established after she and Emhoff got engaged. He bought a pair of goggles to help with his onion chopping duties. “And let me tell you,” Harris wrote in her memoir, “there is nothing more attractive than a man in onion goggles.”
Contributing Janet Loehrke/USA TODAY
PHOTOS AP; AFP and Getty Images