Michael A. McCoy/Getty; Chip Somodevilla/Getty From left: California Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence
Panes of plexiglass between the two candidates will ensure the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) never strays far from viewers' minds on Wednesday night, as Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris face off in their first — and only — debate.
The viral pandemic was already sure to feature prominently in Wednesday's Salt Lake City event, but the country's attention honed in on the issue over the last week following President Donald Trump's hospitalization with the illness.
The virus swept through Trump's orbit in recent days, with more than 10 senior aides, campaign staffers and other Republicans infected. (The source remains unclear, though many of them attended a Sept. 26 event at the White House showing attendees in close proximity and without masks.)
Because of the president's health scare, the Commission on Presidential Debates took extra steps to ensure there were limited risks with meeting for the in-person event, including clear plexiglass dividing the candidates.
Harris, 55, and Pence, 61, will also sit more than 12 feet apart.
Here's what you need to know about how to watch the debate, what the candidates will discuss and what safety precautions the debate commission is taking.
When It Starts and How to Watch
Ethan Miller/Getty; Joe Raedle/Getty From left: Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence
Good morning from inside the site of tonight’s Pence-Harris vice presidential debate. pic.twitter.com/MIKbhO4u8w
— Geoff Bennett (@GeoffRBennett) October 7, 2020
The debate will last 90 minutes, without interruption, and start at 9 p.m. ET.
All of the major networks will carry the debate, while some — including C-SPAN and PBS — will livestream the debate on YouTube. The debate will also be carried in various places online.
Who Is Moderating?
William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal via Getty Susan Page
Susan Page, a longtime Washington bureau chief for USA Today, will be moderating the vice presidential debate on Wednesday night after Fox News host Chris Wallace moderated the first presidential debate last week.
Page has covered the White House for the paper since 1995 and has interviewed nine presidents, most recently publishing a biography about the late First Lady Barbara Bush.
Page, 69, said watching Wallace last week — where he tangled with Trump, who repeatedly interrupted everyone else — only made her more determined to come ready.
"It didn’t change anything," she told USA Today, "but it kind of reinforced the idea that this is an event for which you have to be very, very prepared."
What Is the Format?
CJ GUNTHER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Vice President Mike Pence
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) October 6, 2020
— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) October 6, 2020
Harris and Pence will debate across nine segments, each lasting 10 minutes.
The topics won't be shared ahead of time, according to NBC News, but the coronavirus — and the president's uncertain health — will almost surely come up.
Both candidates will sit more than 12 feet apart from one another, divided by the plexiglass. They will not wear masks while on stage, according to the debate commission.
"There will be a small number of ticketed guests at the debate and we expect tens of millions of viewers from around the world," the commission said in a news release this week.
More than 73 million people tuned in for last week's debate between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
The commission also says both candidates will be administered COVID-19 tests prior to entering the University of Utah's Kingsbury Hall, and anyone in the small crowd not wearing a mask will be escorted from the building.
What Should You Watch For?
Mark Makela/Getty Sen. Kamala Harris
While vice presidential debates are not widely remembered as influential events in campaign cycles — and with many voters this year saying their minds are already made up — Wednesday's face-off is nonetheless a chance for the public to hear from both candidates at length.
Harris is known to be a fierce debater with years of prosecutorial experience, dating back to her time as California's attorney general and as San Francisco's district attorney.
At the same time, Pence — with a wealth of experience on the debate stage, as a a former Indiana governor who was a longtime congressman and radio host before his time in the White House — will likely be looking to smooth over a hectic week for the Trump campaign.
While the Biden team has laid the blame with Pence and Trump for the government's much criticized coronavirus response, Pence and Trump have in turn argued Harris and other Democrats are far-left radicals with Biden as their puppet.
The debate is widely expected to be nowhere near as chaotic as last week, when the president repeatedly heckled Biden and talked over both the former vice president and Chris Wallace, leading Biden to mock him as a "clown."