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The debate this Wednesday between Vice President Mike Pence and the Democratic candidate takes on special relevance in these elections and will mean the leap of the senator to the front line of the campaign

His name was Terence Hallinan, but they called him Kayo, due to his ability to launch attacks that knocked out his rivals. He was a San Francisco district attorney and Kamala Harris worked for him until, in 2003, in his first run for public office, she decided to try to take the job away from him. Harris was 39; Kayo, 67. Living up to her nickname, she ruthlessly attacked her. Harris fought back with powerful rhetoric. Won. She became the first woman and the first African American to serve as the San Francisco district attorney. Then she broke the same glass ceiling at the California attorney general’s office. Now, when Senator Harris prepares to face Vice President Mike Pence in another debate, she does so as a candidate to become the first female vice president of color. Two months after the Democratic candidate Joe Biden chose her to complete his candidacy, eight extraordinary weeks in which the senator has kept a low profile, Kamala Harris now assumes the relevant role that she was promised to play.

The pandemic has changed everything in this campaign, even more so after President Trump tested positive for coronavirus. In their first debate, which takes place this Wednesday night in Salt Lake City (Utah), the candidates for the vice-presidency will stand almost four meters apart from each other and will have Plexiglass screens between them and between each other and the moderator (if not prevented by Pence’s campaign, who resists). Both candidates have tested negative for coronavirus, but Pence has decided he will not quarantine despite having been in contact with the president last week.

But it is not only this staging that will make the debate extraordinary. The main (and almost only) role that the Constitution grants to the vice presidency is to replace the president in the event of death or incapacity. After Donald Trump’s hospitalization for a life-threatening and disabling illness, which has taken him off the road in the final stretch of the campaign, the figure of the presidency takes on renewed importance. Donald Trump is 74 years old and, even if he wins in November, the next would be his last term. Joe Biden, who would enter the White House at 78, has already hinted that he would not run for a second term and that he sees his administration as a transition to a new generation of leaders in his party.

It is therefore assumed that both Harris and Pence have their sights set on the White House for a maximum term of four years. And the candidates represent two parties that need to actively set a new course in 2024: Republicans will have to define what American conservatism is after Trump, and Democrats, who in this campaign largely limit themselves to defining their proposal in the negative, as the antithesis of the president, they will have to deal with the identity debate that they have been dragging for years.

In that situation, Wednesday will be Kamala Harris her true entry into the game. Her election as a candidate generated many expectations about her role. She was the brave and lucid companion of ticket of a candidate who should not show much for his propensity to screw up. But the pandemic forced the campaign to almost eliminate physical activity, and the succession of extraordinary events in recent weeks has created a serious tone that discourages the entry into play of second swords. Harris’s work has been limited to conveying the campaign’s message to small audiences, through virtual fundraising events or short trips that the unusual news condemned to media relevance. Until now.

This Wednesday’s debate will be followed next week, if everything follows the script set by the Republicans, the confirmation hearings in the Senate of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, nominated by Trump to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the Supreme Court. . Democrats, unable to stop the Republican offensive to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court less than a month before the elections, want at least to provide the Senate hearings with a high political load. Harris is on the Upper House Judiciary Committee, where the hearings will be held, and that will provide him with a unique platform from which to deploy his political skills, demonstrated in previous hearings such as Judge Kavanaugh’s, to articulate the message of the democrats.

Contrary to what happened to Biden in the face of his first meeting with Trump last week, Harris’s track record as a star prosecutor and his successful record in debates set Harris’s expectations so high that he runs the risk of only being able to defraud. On everyone’s mind is the second debate of the Democratic primaries, when Harris fiercely attacked Biden, whose name appears today above hers in the party’s candidacy. “That girl was me,” he snapped, after telling the story of a black girl who was traveling by bus to a school in a white district, launching a federal policy to achieve racial integration in schools, to which the Biden opposed as senator. That debate was the climax of Harris’s primary career, ending five months later. After announcing her retirement, due to lack of financial resources, she assured: “I’m still in the fight.” Here it continues. But until today it was just warming up.

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