Preparations underway in Salt Lake City for only vice presidential debate before elections

Published: Oct. 7, 2020 at 4:55 AM EDT
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (WDBJ) - Wednesday night, the two vice presidential candidates, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, will participate in their first and only debate before the election.

Setup for the vice presidential debate is underway inside Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah.

After the recent outbreak of COVID-19 among many top officials at the White House, including President Trump and the first lady, extra precautions are in place for the safety of the candidates.

“Safety must be job one for this debate," DNC Chair Tom Perez said. "And so the debate commission has the responsibility to make sure that everybody who is participating and everybody who is in the debate hall is safe and sound.”

Candidates will be separated by 12 feet instead of seven; plexiglass barriers have also been installed around their podiums.

Many of the precautions come after criticism of Trump’s campaign’s appearance at the first presidential debate in Ohio.

“What we saw in Cleveland was the Trump campaign recklessly disregarded the rules that were set forth that they agreed to,” Perez said. "We were sitting in the debate hall with masks on. There wasn’t one Trump official with a mask on. You’re putting people in harm’s way.”

After last week’s contentious presidential debate, the vice presidential candidates are expected to set a different tone at their debate.

“These two candidates are just so completely different than the people at the top of the ticket,” Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said.

He added this debate takes on extra significance after President Trump’s COVID diagnosis.

“Any time you see something like this get to the highest levels of the White House, it becomes something everyone in the country just wants an answer to,” Perry said.

Everyone in the debate hall will be subjected to a variety of health and safety protocols, including COVID testing and mask-wearing. If someone does not wear a mask, officials say they will be escorted out.

“Everyone is taking it seriously,” Perry said.

Several topics are expected to be addressed Wednesday night. In addition to the White House COVID outbreak, there’s a battle over filling the Supreme Court seat and nationwide racial unrest.

On top of that, the two presidential candidates are the oldest in history.

“We’ve never had presidential candidates of this age,” William Treanor, dean at Georgetown University Law Center, said. “Now we have two very senior people running for president, and I think there’s a real focus on the vice president in a way that we’ve never seen before.”

You can watch the vice presidential debate on WDBJ7 at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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