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The vice president is the Jan Brady of politics. That’s no slight. Jan was the pivotal member of The Brady Bunch, but she was more often than not overshadowed by her siblings.
For that reason, vice presidential debates are typically an afterthought in the run-up to an election. The candidates only meet once, and they don’t get as much attention (or viewers) as their running mates. But Tim Kaine and Mike Pence head into Tuesday’s one and only showdown on the heels of some historic veep matchups — and a record-setting performance from their fellow nominees .
The 2012 and 2008 elections drew surprisingly robust audiences. Across the many networks airing the event, the last VP debate — one that saw incumbent Joe Biden face Paul Ryan — fetched a strong 51.4 million viewers. That might seem like small potatoes, considering the 84-plus million that tuned into Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump just eight nights ago, but it ranks as the No. 3 veep debate of all time.
Interest was high in 2012 and so were the stakes. The VP matchup came on the heels of the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney — an event that pundits almost unanimously dubbed an Obama failure, throwing his assumed re-election into jeopardy. Biden’s appearance was the first formal rebuttal from the administration.
It narrowly fell behind 1984’s history-making meeting between George Bush and first-ever female veep nominee Geraldine Ferraro, which brought 57 million viewers. But it didn’t come close to approaching 2008 numbers.
This stat seems to have gotten lost in the narrative around last week’s record-breaking Clinton-Trump debate, but the 2008 showdown between Biden and GOP nominee Sarah Palin was unprecedented in its haul. Roughly 70 million viewers watched that debate, which outperformed all veep debates and all but one presidential debate that had aired up until that time.
Interest and attention around Palin’s unsuccessful bid for second-highest office in the land has not been duplicated since. She and Biden sparred Oct. 11, 2008, on the heels of Tina Fey’s famous Saturday Night Live parody and her infamously awkward interview with Katie Couric. It was a perfect storm of cultural saturation.
Buzz around the Kaine-Pence debate has been markedly smaller. So for anyone expecting more historic ratings after Clinton’s and Trump’s first meeting, curb your expectations. These running mates face a much more daunting task in approaching any record of their own.
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