United States Vice President Mike Pence will face off against Kamala Harris, running mate to Democrat nominee Joe Biden, in this year’s vice presidential debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Wednesday evening. The debate will be moderated by Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief of USA Today.

The vice-presidential debate this year is of special interest to Americans of Indian descent because it features Harris, an Indian-American who is also the first South Asian to be nominated for a major party ticket. Many others may also be tuning in expecting a more substantial discussion between Pence and Harris than the shoddy debate between Trump and Biden last week, in which the US president relentless interrupted his counterpart.

During that debate, Donald Trump had made two references to India but both had negative connotations attached to them. In response to criticism about his record on Covid-19, he suggested that India is hiding its true coronavirus figures and also claimed that the country is responsible for sending huge amounts of emissions into the air that are harmful to the environment.

Despite this, questions remain about whether Harris can harness her Indian roots to counter Trump’s narrative and garner the support of the Indian-American community in favour of the Democrats. A recent survey presented by AAPI Data, an organisation that collects data on people of Asian and Pacific Island origin in the US, and non-profit organisation Indiaspora, had suggested that although Indian-Americans lean heavily towards the Biden-Harris duo, support for Trump in the community has almost doubled from 16% in 2016 to a projected 28% this year.

Thhough she tends to foreground her Black background, Harris has never shied away from acknowledging her Indian identity. Born to Indian and Jamaican immigrants, she has spoken at length about her multiracial background on various occasions. During her speech at the Democratic National Convention 2020, Harris used the Tamil word “chithi” to address her aunt, causing a storm in Indian social media circles.

In the wake of a slew of Covid-19 infections being reported from the White House over the past week, both Harris and Pence’s podiums at the debate will be surrounded by glass shields, BBC reported.

The vice-presidential debate has also amassed extraordinary attention this year, given President Donald Trump’s Covid-19 infection. On Friday, Trump tweeted that First Lady Melania Trump and he had tested positive for the coronavirus, throwing his election campaign into uncertainty. However, after spending the weekend at the Walter Reed military hospital in Maryland amidst unconfirmed reports of his health deteriorating, the President made a dramatic comeback to the White House and announced that he will soon be back on the campaign trail.

In response to Trumps infection, and that of more than a dozen other White House staffers, the Biden-Harris campaign pushed for plexiglass to separate the two vice-presidential candidates at the debate. After initially pushing back against this suggestion, the Trump-Pence campaing appear to have conceded.

Although moderator Page has not released a list of topics that will be explored during the vice-presidential debate, the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is expected to be a major topic of discussion.


The debate can be watched live at 6.30-8 am Indian Standard Time on Thursday, October 8. That is 9 pm ET and 6 pm Pacific time.

Where to watch

C-SPAN will be hosting a live telecast of the debate on its YouTube channel, as will other major news networks too.

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