Vice Presidential debates rarely influence a campaign very much. Even when one candidate dominates the debate, it does not affect the outcome (think Lloyd Bentsen destroying Dan Quayle in 1988). It mostly gives viewers a chance to meet to people they don't know very well, especially in a year like this one when neither VP candidate participated in the primaries.
For me, I mostly got annoyed by Tim Kaine's repeated interruptions and going off topic. I have been a fan of Pence in the past, and last year had wished he had run for President. So I may be biased when I say he did well. He kept his composure in the face of repeated attacks and interruption.
I really wish both could have been knocked off of their talking points more. Since neither paid much attention to the questions being asked, they talked about whatever topics they liked. The one moment they did get knocked off was the question about their faith.
The Democrats evidently thought Trump's taxes were a game changing issue. Kaine seemed to go back to that continually. Personally, I consider it rather pathetic to question one's patriotism if one takes legitimate tax deductions. There are a great many reasons I don't like Trump. The fact that he made legal use of tax deductions available to him, under a tax code written by others, only makes good sense to me. That said, the issue seems to be moving the poll numbers, so expect the Democrats to keep hammering away on that issue.
Pence focused on this administration's foreign policy failures, including the Russian invasion of Crimea and the nuclear treaty with Iran. The problem with both of those examples, was that they happened after Clinton left the State Department. Kaine exacerbated the problem by giving Clinton credit for the Iran deal.
I think Pence scored some good points over the continued violence in the mid-east. Did "feckless" show up on his word-a-day calendar recently? He seemed to use that a lot. He argued that the Administration's decision to leave Iraq created a vacuum for ISIS and that we should have stayed the course.
I guess that is a valid policy criticism, but for me not a winning one. Yes, the US could have kept hundreds of thousands of US soldiers on the ground in Iraq, and could have moved them into eastern Syria as well. That, however, would only make the US a greater target for extremist attacks. It would have led to thousands more American lives lost and perhaps another $1 trillion or so in military costs to do almost nothing. Perhaps ISIS would not hold real estate, but those same people would almost certainly be engaged in terrorism, with many more US targets rather than going after locals. If voting Republican means putting more US military in the mid-East, you can count me out. I get that others feel differently. Perhaps those arguments will work on them.
Kaine will probably be seen as the winner since he kept Pence on the defensive. Pence seemed to have some trouble defending everything Trump has said during the campaign and earlier, but who wouldn't? That means Kaine succeeded in reminding voters that Trump is dangerous and unstable. As I said at the outset though, VP debates have little impact on voters, even when there is a knockout. In this case, there was no decisive blow, even if Kaine wins on points. Pence may get credit for style, since he kept his composure despite Kaine's incessant interrupting. But style points count for little in the long run.
The polls do seem to be swinging back in favor of Clinton-Kaine. Before the first debate last week, the electoral map was almost dead even. If the election were held today and all polling is accurate, the map would swing back clearly in favor of the Democrats.
Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada have swung back from Red to Blue. Ohio seems to be pulling more red these days. Clinton, however, can lose Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and Nevada and still win the electoral college. In addition to those four, Trump needs to pull another State like Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Colorado. So far, those remain polling consistently blue.
I don't think the VP Debates will have any impact on the poll numbers, which continue to favor Clinton-Kaine. Trump-Pence will need to do something to change the conversation or disrupt the contest in some other way via an "October Surprise" if they want to win this thing. That can happen. It would not take more than a few percentage points to swing quite a number of States. Trump is a master of PR.
One other interesting note: The first Presidential debate saw a record 84 million viewers. However, 88 million have viewed the debates on Youtube. Personally, I did both. Yes, I actually sat through it a second time.
The next debate is scheduled for this Sunday, Oct. 9 in St. Louis.