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VP debate in Utah has higher profile after Trump picks up COVID-19

By
Don Jacobson
Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah is lit up and decorated for the 2020 vice presidential debate on Wednesday between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris. Photo courtesy University of Utah/Twitter
Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah is lit up and decorated for the 2020 vice presidential debate on Wednesday between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris. Photo courtesy University of Utah/Twitter

Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris are preparing to face off for their only debate before the election, on Wednesday.

The lone vice presidential debate is scheduled for 9 p.m. EDT on Wednesday at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and is scheduled to last for 90 minutes.

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Pence was set to fly to Salt Lake City Monday for the event, which has gained a much higher profile after President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized near Washington, D.C.

White House officials were hopeful Trump might be released sometime Monday. First lady Melania Trump, who also tested positive last week, remains in isolation at the White House. Both were present for the first presidential debate a week ago in Cleveland.

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Harris is already in Utah, having arrived on Friday. The next day, she toured the This Is the Place Heritage Park accompanied by Scott Howell, the former Democratic leader of the Utah State Senate. The park features a statue of Brigham Young, who led members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

"When you think about the spirit of America, including the pioneers here, that is so much of the fabric of this nation," Harris told reporters. "They were essentially immigrants. They were fleeing persecution. They were fighting for religious freedom."

With Trump's hospitalization, the vice presidential debate is even more likely to focus on the administration's handling of the pandemic -- particularly Pence's role as chairman of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

RELATED About a dozen people linked to White House test positive for COVID-19

The vice presidential debate is typically a low-profile event in the run-up to the election, but its profile is higher this year because it's uncertain when (or even if) Trump will return to the campaign trail. Some analysts say the White House is looking for Pence to pick up some of the slack.

Security precautions were set up Sunday on the University of Utah campus and officials say they're doubling coronavirus mitigation measures.

"Both campaigns have staff here already as well as the Commission on Presidential Debates," University of Utah Spokesperson Chris Nelson said.

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The commission agreed Friday to increase safeguards by placing Harris and Pence 12 feet apart for the debate.

Though distancing guidelines call for at least 6 feet, the Biden campaign said medical professionals recommend a greater distance when people spend longer periods of time close to one another indoors.

Biden has tested negative for COVID-19 multiple times since Trump tested positive last week.

President Donald Trump hospitalized for COVID-19

President Donald Trump returns to the Truman Balcony of the White House on Monday after three days of treatment for COVID-19 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

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