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Joe Henderson: Tim Kaine, Mike Pence clash in downcard, ‘diluted’ debate

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About halfway through the vice presidential debate Tuesday, I wonder how many Republicans were secretly (or maybe not so secretly) wishing Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was at the top of their presidential ticket.

On my scorecard, Pence was the clear winner over Democrat Tim Kaine — not on policy so much, as I doubt the debate changed many minds on the major issues that divide us all. But Pence was polished, poised, and focused most of the time and — dare I say it — looked presidential.

Kaine? Not so much. He was so loud, rude and frenetic that I almost wondered he hadn’t looked at Howard Dean’s epic meltdown after he was routed in the 2004 Iowa caucuses and thought, “Hey, that looks like a good plan.”

Yo Tim? One word: decaf.

But let’s be honest: I doubt any of this will really matter much for this election. I can’t imagine any undecided voter looked at Pence or Kaine and made up their mind based on that 90-minute exchange.

Let’s put it another way: Last week’s Clinton-Trump debate drew comparisons to the Super Bowl. By that reckoning, Pence-Kaine would be along the lines of a late-season Bucs and Cleveland Browns game.

I doubt it had any impact in Florida, especially since I wouldn’t be surprised if folks all along the east coast of the state were more focused on hurricane preparations than a face-off between the No. 2 people on the presidential ticket. It’s likely the audience was further diluted by the baseball playoff game between Baltimore and Toronto.

Full disclosure: During one of the many times Kaine was going full-Dean and interrupting Pence (who didn’t get flustered; respect for that), I switched over briefly to catch a score on the game. Being dutiful, though, I quickly switched back.

Kaine was still yelling.

The person I felt sorriest for, besides the viewers, of course, was moderator Elaine Quijano, a CBS News correspondent. She lost control of the debate shortly after the introductions and never got it back. The candidates ignored her most of the night and just kept on talking over each other.

One of the more humorous twists came when the Republican National Committee released a prepared statement declaring Pence the clear winner. What’s the big deal?

Someone took “rapid response” to warp speed by sending the statement out 90 minutes before the debate started, even declaring Pence’s top moments included comments about the economy and Hillary Clinton’s scandals.

Oh well.

The night needed a little levity anyway as we wait for Sunday and Round II of Clinton-Trump.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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