Who cares about vice presidents, right? All they do is attend foreign funerals that don’t involve Israelis or Saudis.
But wait. This time it’s different. And it could change our imminent history.
Americans are about to elect the oldest person to ever become president — Donald Trump is 70 — or the second oldest — Hillary Clinton turns 69 this month and collapsed on national TV last month.
Based on actuarial tables, there seems a pretty good chance that one of these vice presidential partners could become commander in chief at some point in the next four or eight years.
So who are these two middle-aged white guys that millions of TV viewers will not recognize when they debate this week?
Their meeting will not by itself determine Nov. 8 results. In fact, the Trump-Clinton debates will not likely decide the election. Polls after the first debate found 2 of 3 thought Clinton had won. Gallup found 90 percent paying attention to debates. But voters are so locked in with their respective candidates that Clinton’s support showed only minimal change.
In that case, even the slightest shift among independents, weak supporters or third-party voters could be determinative. Enter the veep candidates whose names and performances will dominate news coverage all this week. And they won’t be easily characterized, well, because both are just not that interesting.
Mike Pence and Tim Kaine were both one-term governors. Pence is 57; Kaine, 58. Both are Midwest-born. Both are Roman Catholic. Both have three kids. Both have congressional experience.
Neither has run for national office before. So they’re both coming in with virtually zero expectations. One of them will succeed Joe Biden. So the shoes aren’t too big to fill.
And with this campaign, both are developing national party personalities, experience and contacts that could give them a leg up in any future presidential competition. Are you listening, Marco and Ted?
Pence has, perhaps, the more important job this year. He and his gray hair can lend a more serious balance or counterweight to the loud celebrity star atop the ticket. As an experienced, steady pol he is unlikely to step into embarrassing gaffes as Biden has all along or to get sidetracked over beauty pageants.
Pence’s longer congressional tenure and well-received years in a House leadership role (12 years vs. Sen. Kaine’s three) also give the Hoosier gravitas and valuable chops to talk the kind of political history and policy specifics that Trump won’t or can’t.
Kaine’s stage persona as a kind of hey-there-how-ya-doing jolly guy could warm up the robotic political personality of his ticket-mate. In theory, anyway.
His familiarity to Virginians could help sway the dominion’s 13 electoral votes into the Democrat column. Thanks to demographic changes in the prosperous Beltway counties, Democrats have won there the last two cycles after generations of GOP allegiance.
Likewise for Pence and the 11 electoral votes of Indiana, the Midwest’s most reliably Republican state in modern history. In the last three-quarters of a century a Democrat has won Indiana only two times — in the 1964 Goldwater debacle and very narrowly in the 2008 Obama hyperventilation, a mistake Indiana corrected dramatically in 2012.
Indiana Democrats like Clinton so much that they gave her 47 percent of this year’s primary votes. However, they gave Bernie Sanders 53 percent. Converting his typically younger supporters to the faux progressive Grandma Clinton is proving a stubborn national challenge for her.
Honestly, if the Trump-Pence ticket has trouble in Indiana next month, you can kiss Melania and the White House goodbye.
On hot-button issues, both Pence and Kaine toe their party’s standard lines. On abortion, for instance, Pence is strongly pro-life and launched a legislative struggle to defund Planned Parenthood as early as 2007.
Kaine calls himself a “strong supporter” of the Roe vs. Wade decision. He’s received 100 percent scores from Planned Parenthood and NARAL. But he skates the political issue by claiming that while he personally opposes abortion, he thinks government shouldn’t be involved in such decisions.
Expect to hear frequent professions of loyalty to Trump or Clinton while both men seek safety in wonky details. Call it Clash of the Bland.
Andrew Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him on Twitter: @AHMalcolm.