WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — A full-blown firestorm was never in the cards for the vice presidential debate between Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
If last week’s Trump-Clinton matchup was a firework, Pence-Kaine was a sparkler. Maybe a roman candle.
The devoutly Christian men are known political quantities with generally affable styles and low voter recognition rates. Kaine’s been dubbed a “human minivan,” while Pence has been called “the guy you cast as a Republican in a 1980s sitcom.”
However, on stage Tuesday evening, they brought more energy and aggression than many expected. Pence came across, with a few exceptions, as cool and collected. Kaine appeared more jumpy and confrontational.
By the end of the 90 minutes, the candidates and moderator (and one presidential contender watching on television) cranked out a few moments that got viewers buzzing.
Trump’s “brilliant” tax avoidance
Donald Trump’s tax returns were front-and-center, even though we’ve only seen three pages from his 1995 filings, which suggest he lost more than $900 million that year and possibly avoided paying federal income taxes for the next 18 years.
Pence fervently argued that Trump handled his taxes “brilliantly.”
Trump live tweets debate
Trump assigned himself the task of live tweeting the VP debate.
He mostly stuck to the subject at hand, but couldn’t help himself from taking a jab at Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and retweeting a supporter who thinks Kaine looks like a Batman villain.
Elaine Quijano referees bickering candidates
Debate moderator Elaine Quijano of CBS News did her very best to guide the conversation and control the candidates, without much help from Kaine or Pence.
Quijano could frequently be heard admonishing them with “Senator!” and “Governor!”
Pence: “You whipped out that Mexican thing again”
While going back forth about Trump’s incendiary statements on illegal Mexican immigrants, Pence got a huge reaction for huffing at Kaine, “You whipped out that Mexican thing again.”
Even the former RNC Chairman Michael Steele agreed it wasn’t a great choice of words, tweeting, “that may leave a mark.”
Longwood, not “Norwood”
During Pence’s opening statement, he thanked “Norwood University” for their hospitality.
One problem: the debate was hosted by Longwood University.
Within minutes, “Norwood” was a top-trender on Twitter.
Pence notably split with Donald Trump’s generally positive tone on Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling the former KGB officer “small and bullying.”
The GOP VP nominee repeatedly tried to create distance between his ticket at the Russian leader, leading many reporters to point out that Pence himself said previously that it’s “inarguable” that Putin has been a “stronger leader” than President Barack Obama.
“Insult-driven” campaign contest
Kaine elicited a critique from Pence for sticking closely to his talking points throughout the night, while trying to place the focus on Trump’s controversies and missteps.
Kaine stated goal was to demonstrate the nature of Trump’s “insults-driven campaign.” Pence considered that an insult.
Several journalists noted that, ironically, Pence even considered verbatim quotes from past Trump speeches proof of Kaine’s “insults-driven” approach.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales