Sen. Tim Kaine and Gov. Mike Pence emerged from their face-to-face bout having tried to serve their presidential nominees in sharply different ways.
Of the two vice-presidential hopefuls, Pence seemed to win better media and focus-group reviews for his Tuesday night performance.
Pence spoke smoothly in general defense of Donald Trump — and against Hillary Clinton — without erupting or adopting Trump’s coarser style.
Kaine, meanwhile, aimed laserlike at Trump’s negatives.
The Virginia senator needled and interrupted the Indiana governor, looking to drive home what the Democratic side sees as the worst of Trump’s faults and deficiencies.
Tactically, Kaine took on a rapid-fire approach that seemed, despite some repetition of his message, less scripted and more aggressive than a typical Clinton performance.
For example, this exchange:
PENCE: Donald Trump and I would never support legislation that punished women who made the heartbreaking choice to end a pregnancy.
KAINE: Then why did Donald Trump say that?
PENCE: We just never would.
KAINE: Why did he say that?
PENCE: Well, look, it’s — look, he’s not a polished politician like you and Hillary Clinton. And so . . .
KAINE: Well, I would admit that’s not polished . . .
And a tangle of crosstalk followed.
Like most debates, this one featured deviations from the questions posed by the moderator. Elaine Quijano of CBS News inadvertently got one of the best laugh lines of the night after an exchange on the relative merits of the Trump and Clinton family foundations, when she told Pence:
“Governor, I will give you 30 seconds to respond, because I know you want to, but, again, I would remind you both this [segment] was about North Korea.”
Some of the debate news filtered in from outside the debate hall.
GOP consultants said Pence seemed to score big when he defended against Kaine’s charge that Trump’s campaign is “insult-driven” — by noting how she’d called half of Trump’s supporters a “basketful of deplorables.”
But as if to make Pence’s mission more difficult, Trump at the outset of the 90-minute debate had tweeted about sometimes-nemesis Megyn Kelly of Fox News.
Kelly had quipped on the air about how Trump had his team with him and “Kellyanne’s got the thumbs,” suggesting an effort to keep Trump from undisciplined tweeting.
The presidential candidate tweeted back, fact-check style: “@megynkelly — I am in Nevada. Sorry to inform you Kellyanne is in the [debate] audience [in Virginia]. Better luck next time.”
That’s relatively mild, coming from Trump. But it had to remind anyone who knew about it of his prior nasty personal attacks on Kelly. In January he tweeted: “I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct. Instead, I will only call her a lightweight reporter!”
Once again, Trump drew attention to himself without a clear purpose.
One BuzzFeed writer, Rosie Gray, said Pence’s well-received debate performance “seemed to occur in a bizarre alternate universe where some normal establishment Republican is the nominee.”
Meanwhile, Kaine’s work defending Clinton from Pence’s shots was no cinch.
He scrambled hard to douse conflict concerns surrounding the Clinton foundation, controversy over her use a private email server as secretary of state and criticism of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Overall, however, the event felt like a more conventional debate from a more typical election.
The scene returns to abnormal Sunday, when Trump faces Clinton in their second debate.