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Liz Peek: 2020 VP debate – why this one matters more than most

October already delivered one surprise: President Trump and first lady Melania Trump testing positive for COVID-19.

Wednesday night could deliver another: the one and only scheduled vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris could be a show-stopper.

Why? Because voters may finally get to see the real Kamala Harris, who has ducked taking a stand on critical issues and has, like Joe Biden, routinely refused to answer questions on the campaign trail. The performance of the California senator could well impact the trajectory of the race.

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The VP debate, normally a snoozefest, looms large because Biden turns 78 next month and has on occasion appeared incoherent and confused. Many doubt his ability to serve a full four years, much less eight. That puts the heat on Harris, who could become president if Biden wins and is forced to retire.

The VP face-off will also likely be a dress rehearsal for 2024. Win or lose on Nov. 3, Harris will almost certainly be a Democrat presidential candidate four years from now; Mike Pence could well top the Republican ticket.

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Given the stakes, moderator Susan Page of USA Today must absolutely demand that Harris be straight with American voters. We know Pence; we do not know Harris.

For instance, both Harris and Biden have refused to say whether they favor packing the Supreme Court and abolishing the Electoral College. This is unacceptable.

These controversial ambitions of the Left would fundamentally change how our democracy works and what our nation’s future will be; voters deserve to know where the candidates stand.

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The VP debate is rarely a hot ticket. In 2016, while the first debate between Trump and former Secretary of State Lady Hillary Clinton attracted a record 84 million viewers, only 37 million people bothered to watch VP candidates Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana, and Democrat Tim Kaine, senator from Virginia.

Indeed, the only VP debate that ever caught the nation’s attention was the 2008 encounter between Joe Biden, running with Barack Obama, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, when 70 million Americans tuned in.

Palin drove up the audience. She was new and untested, and at times controversial.

But the real reason for the interest in that debate was that the media had alarmed the nation about 72-year-old McCain’s health.

The New York Times and other liberal outlets published numerous articles darkly hinting that McCain’s several bouts with melanoma could kill him. They were wrong. The Arizona senator died 10 years later of glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer.

Nonetheless, concern about McCain’s ability to survive eight years in office raised the stakes for his VP pick.

Today’s situation is similar. In the recent debate against Trump, Biden confounded viewers with sentences like: “The 20-the 200 mil – the 200,000 people who have died on his watch, how many of those have survived?”

Like Biden, Harris’ positions on numerous issues, like law and order, appear as fluid as milk.   

Biden’s frequent lapses are alarming and possibly explain why the former VP hid out in his basement for so many months.

That puts the spotlight on Harris.

Like her running mate, the senator is campaigning as a moderate, though, like Biden, she is no such thing. In 2019 GovTrack scored her “the most liberal” among all senators, and noted that she “joined bipartisan bills the least often compared to Senate Democrats.”

Also, like Biden, Harris’ positions on numerous issues, like law and order, appear as fluid as milk.

Mike Bloomberg, endorsing Harris in his eponymous magazine, lauds the candidate for having improved California’s criminal justice system “by making the data more transparent.” Data collection – that’s what Bloomberg highlights as Harris’ accomplishments during her terms as district attorney, and then attorney general.

What Bloomberg ignored, because it is controversial to today’s Democrats, is that she was considered a tough prosecutor, going hard after gangs and other criminals and winning the endorsement of police unions.

In the second round of Democratic primary debates, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard reminded viewers that Harris had “put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations,” and also blocked “evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row…”

No wonder that Harris, who made a big push to win over Black voters in South Carolina, failed to get traction.

Today, of course, Harris has pivoted to the Democrat mainstream, agreeing that the U.S. is “systemically racist.” She has called Black Lives Matter “brilliant” and described the protests that erupted into violence “an essential component of evolution in our country…” Do Black business owners whose shops were burned to the ground in Minneapolis or Seattle agree?

In June, Harris cheered Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s announcement that he would cut police funding by $150 million, expressing sympathy for calls to “defund the police.”

The debate moderator should ask her how she would respond to the 81 percent of Black Americans who said in a recent Gallup survey that they’d like the police to spend either more or the same amount of time in their community, not less.

On abortion, Harris proudly earns a 100% rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and from the abortion-rights group NARAL.

While many Americans support women’s right to choose, 79%, according to a YouGov poll, disagree with Democrats’ push to allow abortions up to the moment of birth, as is legal now in New York state. Harris has coyly said that the timing of an abortion should be left up to the woman.

Also, she voted against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would penalize doctors who refuse medical care to a child born alive after an attempted abortion. Some 82% of Americans oppose withholding care from newborn babies.

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Americans need to know, does Harris approve of late-term abortions and allowing viable babies to die?

There are plenty of issues – gun control, “Medicare-for-all” and the Green New Deal, for instance – on which Harris has waffled. If Susan Page pins her down, as she should, the race could shift. That would be a real October surprise.

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