2020 vice presidential debate

By Melissa Macaya, Fernando Alfonso III, Veronica Rocha, Jessica Estepa and Kyle Blaine, CNN

Updated 2:23 p.m. ET, November 23, 2020
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8:09 p.m. ET, October 7, 2020

What the inside of the debate hall looks like

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Vice President Mike Pence and his Democratic rival, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, will face off shortly in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the first and only general election vice presidential debate of 2020.

The Commission on Presidential Debates said it was taking additional health and safety precautions at the debate, including using plexiglass, in the wake of President Trump's positive diagnosis.

Here are some key measures:

  • Space on stage: Pence and Harris will be seated for the debate, and the distance between the center of the chairs will be 12 feet and 3 inches, according to the commission. The moderator will also be seated and will be at a similar distance of 12 feet and 3 inches from the candidates.
  • Plexiglass: It will be used at the debate, and there will not be a handshake or physical contact between the candidates or with the moderator.
  • Testing: Harris and Pence will be tested for coronavirus before the debate. Once on stage, neither the candidates nor the moderator will wear masks.
  • Audience: There will be a small number of ticketed guests, according to the CPD. Everyone in the debate hall will be subject to a variety of health and safety protocols, according to the commission, including coronavirus testing and wearing masks.

Here's what the debate stage looks like:

Members of the production crew stand in on the stage near plexiglass barriers which will serve as a way to protect the spread of Covid-19 as preparations take place for the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah, on Tuesday in Salt Lake City.
Members of the production crew stand in on the stage near plexiglass barriers which will serve as a way to protect the spread of Covid-19 as preparations take place for the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah, on Tuesday in Salt Lake City. Patrick Semansky/AP

A member of the production staff puts labels on seats in an effort to keep seats socially distanced ahead of the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah, On Wednesday in Salt Lake City.
A member of the production staff puts labels on seats in an effort to keep seats socially distanced ahead of the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah, On Wednesday in Salt Lake City. Julio Cortez/AP
Plexiglass protections between the debaters are seen on the stage of the debate hall ahead of the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall of the University of Utah October 6, in Salt Lake City.
Plexiglass protections between the debaters are seen on the stage of the debate hall ahead of the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall of the University of Utah October 6, in Salt Lake City. Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images
The stage is set ahead of the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall of the University of Utah October 7, in Salt Lake City.
The stage is set ahead of the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall of the University of Utah October 7, in Salt Lake City. Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images

8:20 p.m. ET, October 7, 2020

5 million votes have been cast in 2020 election so far

From CNN's Adam Levy, Ethan Cohen and Liz Stark

Working in bipartisan pairs, canvassers process mail-in ballots in a warehouse at the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections headquarters on October 7, in Glen Burnie, Maryland.
Working in bipartisan pairs, canvassers process mail-in ballots in a warehouse at the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections headquarters on October 7, in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris meet in Salt Lake City tonight for their first and only vice presidential debate, more than 5.4 million Americans have already voted in the general election, according to a CNN and Edison Research survey of election officials in 31 states reporting voting data.

More than 3 million of those votes come from 11 of CNN's most competitively ranked states.

Nationally, Democrats are voting in droves ahead of the election, making up more than half the ballots cast so far in states with party data available, and Republicans making up about one-quarter of the votes so far.

That detailed information, analyzed by Catalist, a company that provides data, analytics and other services to Democrats, academics and nonprofit issue-advocacy organizations, is giving new insights into who is voting before November. Catalist analyzed almost 4.5 million ballots cast in 27 states so far.

This data does not predict the outcome of any race, as polling shows Republicans strongly prefer voting in person on Election Day rather than early. The information contains insights and details about who is voting ahead of Nov. 3. While the returns represent a small fraction of the expected number of ballots to be cast in 2020 — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton received about 130 million votes combined four years ago — some states have reported that the numbers of ballot requests and returns have already set records.

Despite the surge in preelection voting this year, the gender breakdown remains similar to this point in 2016: 55% of the ballots cast so far are from women and 45% are from men. Among CNN's key states, Wisconsin, at 57%, has the largest share of ballots returned by women.

Most of CNN's key states are seeing gender breakdowns among ballots cast similar to those of this point four years ago, but there are exceptions. At this point in 2016, roughly 61% of Georgia's ballots cast had come from women, but so far this year, it's only 56%.

Read the full story here

CNN's Pamela Brown breaks down the numbers:

8:44 p.m. ET, October 7, 2020

Biden crosses 270 threshold in CNN's electoral college outlook for first time

From CNN's David Chalian and Terence Burlij

Joe Biden is surging in the battle for the White House with less than four weeks to go until Election Day.

In our latest Electoral College outlook, the Democratic presidential nominee crosses the 270 threshold for the first time this year. If you add up the states that are currently rated as solidly in his camp (203 electoral votes) and those leaning in his direction (87 electoral votes), it brings his total to 290 electoral votes.

As President Trump remains infected with coronavirus and absent from the campaign trail, his campaign finds itself in its worst political position since the start of the campaign season. The President had a disastrous debate performance last week in what was one of his last best chances to turn things around before millions of Americans began casting their ballots.

It only got worse from there, when his response to contracting Covid-19 was to tell the country not to worry about it and demonstrate a brazen lack of leadership by removing his mask on a White House balcony overlooking the South Lawn for all the world to see —precisely the move that nearly every scientist and expert says goes against promoting the best weapon we currently have to combat the virus.

The Trump campaign also finds itself at a significant competitive disadvantage with the Biden campaign when it comes to money to spend on critical TV ads in the homestretch — exactly the moment when a campaign wants to maximize spending to open as many paths to 270 as possible.

Meanwhile, the former vice president appears to have built back up that so-called blue wall across the Midwest that Trump busted through in 2016 to secure his victory.

Since our last Electoral College outlook, there have been no fewer than eight polls that meet CNN's reporting standards out of Pennsylvania — a critical battleground state for either candidate's path to 270 electoral votes. Biden never held less than a 5-percentage point lead in any of them and his support level was never below 49%. We are moving Pennsylvania back to Leans Democratic.

Read the full story here and build your own road to 270 electoral votes with CNN's interactive map.

7:52 p.m. ET, October 7, 2020

Harris will face the ghosts of policies past  

From CNN's Eric Bradner, Gregory Krieg and Dan Merica

Kamala Harris listens as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks following a coronavirus briefing with health experts at the Hotel DuPont on August 13, in Wilmington, Delaware. 
Kamala Harris listens as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks following a coronavirus briefing with health experts at the Hotel DuPont on August 13, in Wilmington, Delaware.  Drew Angerer/Getty Images

California Sen. Kamala Harris entered the Democratic presidential primary as a supporter of "Medicare for All," the national health insurance plan written and championed by her competitor Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

By the time she dropped out, in December 2019, the senator from California had rowed back her support and unveiled her own plan, which called for transitioning to a government-run program over 10 years but allowing private insurers to participate.

Now she is making the case for Biden and his proposal to beef up the Affordable Care Act and create a public option on top of it.

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence don't have a credible health care plan of their own, but that won't stop the vice president from trying to paint Harris as a tool of the "radical left" over both her initial backing of Medicare for All and her own proposal.

Her ability to pivot out of that conversation and into one about the current administration's policies, both on the pandemic and their support for a lawsuit that threatens the ACA, could be a defining moment.  

7:48 p.m. ET, October 7, 2020

CDC director says it is safe for Pence to participate in tonight's debate

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

Ahead of tonight's debate, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement that it is safe for Vice President Mike Pence to participate in the vice presidential debate.

Redfield said the CDC had a consultation with Dr. Jesse Schonau, currently serving in the White House medical unit, and based on the descriptions, "the Vice President is not a close contact of any known person with Covid-19, including the President."

For Covid-19, the CDC defines a close contact as a person who was within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more, starting from two days before illness onset or positive specimen collection, until the patient is isolated.

7:47 p.m. ET, October 7, 2020

How Harris and Pence have been preparing for tonight's debate

From CNN's Eric Bradner, Gregory Krieg and Dan Merica

Four years ago, then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence let out an exasperated "there you go again" on the debate stage after his opponent, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, said "America, you need a 'You're hired' president, not a 'You're fired' president."

It was actually the first time Kaine, then the Democratic vice presidential nominee, uttered the phrase during the debate, but Pence didn't realize that. He had repeatedly heard the line ahead of time from the man playing the role of Kaine in his debate prep, former GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

It's that kind of preparation that helped him deliver a strong debate performance in 2016, and a source familiar with Pence's debate prep this time around says he is approaching it the same way — with traditional, tried and true methods like mock debates that last 90 minutes without a break, just like the real thing.

Only a small group of advisers are in the room helping him, including former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has played the role of Kamala Harris, along with others.

Walker predicts that Harris will be a tougher opponent than Kaine was four years ago.

"For two reasons. One, because of her background as a prosecutor. I think that will be perfected. And two, I think the stakes are higher," Walker said.

With President Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and more than a dozen White House staffers now sick with Covid-19, Pence aides are bracing for Harris to turn the conversation to the pandemic as much as possible. And, of course, the vice president is the head of the White House coronavirus task force.

Harris sources say don't expect her to pull her punches just because the President contracted coronavirus, especially since he is no longer in the hospital.

Harris, like Pence, is preparing in a conventional way. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Pence's fellow Hoosier, plays the role of the vice president in her mock debates, according a source familiar with her prep.

Lily Adams, Harris' former communications director both in the Senate and during her presidential campaign, said the California senator is a studier, a voracious reader of briefing books, and taking in the advice of her staff.

In her prep, Adams said Harris is very focused on finding ways to make her positions relatable.

"Let's really dig deep on how does that impact an actual person's life? Let me explain the problem that way, as opposed to using some sort of set term or a term that only makes sense in Washington, DC," Adams recalls Harris asking in prep in the past with staff.

Read the full story here.

7:35 p.m. ET, October 7, 2020

The parents of Kayla Mueller will be Pence's guests tonight

From CNN's Daniella Diaz

In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, Carl and Marsha Mueller, parents of humanitarian worker Kayla Mueller who was killed by ISIS, address the virtual convention on August 27.
In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, Carl and Marsha Mueller, parents of humanitarian worker Kayla Mueller who was killed by ISIS, address the virtual convention on August 27. Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence’s guest at tonight’s debate will be the parents of Kayla Mueller, who was kidnapped and killed by ISIS.

In 2012, Kayla traveled to the Turkey/Syria border to work with the Danish Refugee Council and the humanitarian organization Support to Life, which assisted families forced to flee their homes.

She was taken hostage by ISIS in Aleppo, Syria, in 2013 after she visited a Spanish MSF (Doctors Without Borders) hospital. The family confirmed Kayla's death in 2015.

7:30 p.m. ET, October 7, 2020

Ahead of tonight's debate, Salt Lake City mayor called on city to reimpose tougher restrictions

From CNN's Steve Almasy and Christina Maxouris

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speaks during a news conference Monday, Sept. 21, in Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speaks during a news conference Monday, Sept. 21, in Salt Lake City. Rick Bowmer/AP

Almost nine months into the coronavirus pandemic, the crisis shows no signs of abating, even in states that were once not considered Covid-19 hotspots.

Utah, where the vice presidential candidates will debate tonight, is averaging more than 1,000 new cases each day for the past week. That's the highest it's been since the first cases in the US were reported in late January.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall on Tuesday requested the city reimpose tougher restrictions like smaller limits on social gatherings.

"Our data's continuing upward trend is alarming and swift action is necessary. The shift to orange should be a signal to Salt Lake City residents of the gravity of this situation," Mendenhall said.

The head of the Oregon Health Authority on Tuesday said the state is seeing a significant spike in new coronavirus cases since autumn began.

"We have reversed the progress we made in the late summer, and our most recent modeling shows the virus is spreading more rapidly," Pat Allen told reporters.

State officials in Alaska are seeing record numbers of cases and its highest ever test positivity rate (4.19%).

In Montana, health officials reported more than 500 new cases for the first time. According to The Covid Tracking Project, the state on Monday reported 201 new hospitalizations, a record.

Overall cases across the nation are on the rise. More than 50,000 daily cases were reported on Friday and Saturday. The last time the US saw more than 50,000 cases back to back was mid-August.

Just four states — Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri and South Carolina — are reporting a decline in coronavirus cases over the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

7:23 p.m. ET, October 7, 2020

What we know about Harris' debate strategy

From CNN's Dan Merica, Kyung Lah, MJ Lee and Jasmine Wright

California Senator Kamala Harris speaks onstage during the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019.
California Senator Kamala Harris speaks onstage during the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Kamala Harris and Mike Pence will be the two candidates on the debate stage in Utah tonight, but the California senator's goal is to make the contest all about the man who isn't there: President Trump.

Harris, according to multiple Democrats familiar with her debate strategy, is preparing for the highest profile moment in her political career by studying both Trump and Pence's past positions, speaking with people who either know Pence well or have debated him in the past and preparing for a vice president who, unlike his boss, doesn't show much emotion on the debate stage.

But the goal, the sources said, is to make the debate about more than Pence and focus the conversation on Trump's mishandling of coronavirus, much like Biden tried to do a week earlier.

"Even though it is a vice presidential debate, the debate is about Donald Trump and Joe Biden," said a Biden campaign aide. "And it is all about making the case for why we need Joe Biden in this moment and why Donald Trump has failed."

Harris will make history as the first Black and South Asian woman to participate in a general election debate.

Read more here.