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The Only Reason the Pence-Kaine VP Debate Matters

Hint: It could help Donald Trump

For the most part, watching a vice-presidential debate packs all the fun and excitement of a visit to the cemetery.

While Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s first debate shattered the previous record set by Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980 — scoring an eye-popping 84 million viewers — Tuesday’s face-off between their low-key running mates could shatter another record by becoming the lowest-rated VP debate in American history. (Right now that honor belongs to Al Gore and Jack Kemp, who in 1996 drew a meager 26.6 million viewers).

“It’s going to be a debate between two boring white guys,” Jack Pitney, professor of government at California’s Claremont McKenna College, told TheWrap. “More substance and no personal attacks.”

But there is one good reason to watch: If Pence does in fact manage to pull off a victory, it could change the narrative for the Trump campaign, anchored by a string of recent controversies and a widely panned debate performance last week.

Pence isn’t known for a fiery personality, but unlike Trump, he’s held elected office. The debate could be just what Trump’s spin-doctors ordered: The perfect opportunity for Pence to showcase his policy chops.

Another reason to pay attention is that both Pence and Kaine have been effective clean-up guys for their bosses’ gaffes and scandals so far. But if Pence hopes to clean up for Trump’s latest gaffes, said Pitney, “He’s going to need a really big shovel.”

Running mates can, at times, lift a presidential nominee who’s had a bad showing on their first debate. Some would argue that Dick Cheney’s strong showing helped George W. Bush bounce back after a bad first-debate performance in 2004 against John Kerry. And Obama got help from Joe Biden’s dominating performance in 2012 against Paul Ryan.

George H.W. Bush, meanwhile, won the presidency in 1988 in spite of his running mate, Dan Quayle, suffering a humiliating burn at the hands of Lloyd Bentsen.

Neither Pence nor Kaine is exactly Sarah Palin when it comes to holding the nation at rapt fascination. A recent ABC poll found that 41 percent of those surveyed couldn’t name the Republican vice presidential nominee, while 46 percent couldn’t name the Democrat.

Kaine himself admitted he is “boring” right before being picked as Clinton’s running mate. And during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer, Pence introduced himself to the audience by saying: “To those of you who don’t know me, which is most of you…”

Maybe that will change tonight. Or maybe not.

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