LOS ANGELES - Wednesday night’s showdown between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris drew in 57.9 million viewers, making it the second-most-watched vice presidential debate in history, according to Nielsen data.
The 2020 running mate face-off came in behind the 2008 debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, which garnered a record 69.6 million viewers.
In the past, vice presidential debates have typically been overlooked. Pence’s 2016 appearance against Democratic challenger Sen. Tim Kaine was viewed by just 37.2 million people.
But in an election year as polarizing and as rousing as 2020, everything matters.
With President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis and some voters’ concern over Joe Biden’s age, the prospect of either running mate stepping in for their respective boss should anything happen is not implausible. In fact, the 2020 vice presidential debate’s moderator, USA TODAY’s Susan Page, asked both Pence and Harris to weigh in on the scenario.
While the debate was relatively tame compared to last week’s raucous presidential face-off, there were moments that stood out — especially on social media.
Twitter lit up when, for two minutes, a fly rested on Pence's white hair. Pence did not flinch, but the internet went wild.
And the Biden campaign pounced, grabbing the internet domain flywillvote.com, tweeting it out from his account. The domain redirected users to a website containing voter registration and information. The campaign also tweeted a link to purchase a fly swatter with a printed logo that read, “TRUTH over FLIES,” within minutes of the debate’s end.
The moment was so popular on social media that Zach McNamara, the Biden-Harris campaign’s merchandise director, disclosed roughly an hour after the release of the fly swatter that Biden’s campaign had sold 15,000 of them.
In the wake of the vice presidential debate, the fate of the final two debates between Trump and Biden were thrown into uncertainty Thursday as both campaigns offered dueling proposals for the events that have been upended by the president’s coronavirus infection.
The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced Thursday that the town hall-style affair set for Oct. 15 in Miami, would be held virtually, citing health concerns following Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis as the reason for the change.
In an interview with FOX Business anchor Maria Bartiromo shortly after the commission's announcement, Trump insisted he was in “great shape” and called the idea of a virtual debate a “joke.”
“I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” he declared.
Trump’s campaign confirmed that he wouldn’t participate if the debate wasn’t in person. Biden's campaign then suggested the event be delayed a week until Oct. 22, which is when the third and final debate was already scheduled.
Trump’s campaign countered again, agreeing to a debate on Oct. 22 — but only if it’s held face-to-face — and asking that the third contest be moved to Oct. 29, just before the election. But Biden's advisers rejected squaring off that late in the campaign.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.