WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 (Reuters) – Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris will hit the campaign trail in two battlefield states on Thursday, the day after a calm debate marked by disagreements over the management by administration of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pence’s campaign swing comes as he acts as an attorney for President Donald Trump, who is in the White House being treated for COVID-19, a diagnosis that has refocused the race on management by Trump of a crisis that has killed more than 210,000 Americans.
Pence on Wednesday defended Trump’s record on the pandemic and other issues threatened by Harris, who said Trump’s failures cost Americans their lives. But the calm, mostly civilian debate was in stark contrast to last week’s combative meeting between Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
With less than four weeks to go before the November election – and more than 5 million votes already cast – the vice-presidential debate is unlikely to change its mind in a contest dominated by voter reactions to Trump and Biden.
Biden has always led Trump in national polls, but polls show a tighter race in many states that will decide the election – including Arizona, which Harris, Pence and Biden will visit on Thursday.
Harris will be joined by Biden for an event with Native American leaders and a bus tour to meet with small business owners and voters in Phoenix and Tempe on the second day of early voting in the state.
Pence will also be heading to Arizona, for a campaign event in Peoria, after starting the day with a rally at an airport hangar in Boulder City, Nevada.
Nevada and Arizona are critical states in the Nov. 3 election between Biden and Trump.
Biden’s campaign has targeted Arizona, which Trump raised 3.5 percentage points in 2016 against Democrat Hillary Clinton, as a state he could turn around in its attempt to muster the 270 electoral votes needed for win the White House.
A Reuters / Ipsos poll on Wednesday showed Biden a narrow 2 percentage point advantage over Trump in Arizona, who has 11 electoral votes.
Trump, 74, lost Nevada to Clinton by 2.4 percentage points in 2016 and hopes to claim it in November, though polls have shown he has an uphill battle.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PANDEMIC
Trump’s diagnosis of COVID-19 and an outbreak among White House staff and some senior Senate Republicans have shed light on the administration’s handling of the pandemic.
Despite his illness, Trump has sought ways to get his electoral message across, advisers said. A speech to senior voters is planned for Thursday, they said. He is also expected to appear on Fox Business Network Thursday morning for his first TV interview since it was revealed Friday that he had contracted COVID-19. said Trump was eager to get back on the election track and insisted the next debate be on Oct. 15 in Miami, even though Biden said on Tuesday he would not participate if Trump was not virus-free.
During the debate, Pence and Harris repeatedly avoided questions. Harris declined to respond directly to a question from Pence about whether she and Biden would add Supreme Court justices if elected.
Pence, like Trump in last week’s debate, declined to say whether Trump would honor the election results if he lost. He also avoided a question about how the administration would protect patients with pre-existing conditions from it succeeds in a legal challenge against the Affordable Care Act, which provides such protections.
One of the most memorable moments in the debate came when a fly landed in Pence’s white hair, settling in for an extended stay and building a quick follow on Twitter, where the hashtag # fly2024 was born.