Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris were set later yesterday to face off in their only debate, which some political analysts, given the age and health of the presidential candidates and pressing issues the country is facing, have called the most important vice presidential debate in American history.
With Trump infected with the coronavirus that has already killed more than 210,000 Americans, the Pence-Harris showdown has taken on an unusually pressing quality, given that the White House deputy is just a heartbeat away from the presidency.
The duel in Salt Lake City occurs as the nation lurches from one crisis to another.
Not only has the president tested positive; coronavirus has spread through his inner circle, infecting dozens of top advisors, administration staff, senior military officials and Republican lawmakers.
Racial and political tensions are simmering, prompting Biden to issue a clarion call for national unity Tuesday and warn that "the forces of darkness" and division are "pulling us apart."
Less than 4 weeks ahead of the election day, Trump keeps warning that mail-in ballots are somehow fraudulent which may put US in a post-polls crisis. And Senate Republicans are rushing to confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee even as some in their caucus are in quarantine.
Vice-presidential debates don't usually trouble presidential historians too much, but this year the drama of the election campaign could heighten interest in how the pair fare against each other.
The fact that the president has been seriously ill has reminded the public they have the two oldest presidential candidates in history. Being first in the line of succession has never been more significant, and both debaters will be aware they have to present themselves as ready to step into the world's biggest job.
The first debate between Trump and Biden was also so bereft of serious policy that some have said they're hoping for a proper discussion about the vision for America being offered by each ticket.
It could even also be the final debate of the campaign, depending on whether the president recovers in time.
No wonder the Brookings Institution called it the most important vice-presidential debate ever.
Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief for USA Today, will moderate the event. Page will personally choose the debate topics, which haven't yet been released.
As the president's poll numbers slide, his sedate, behind-the-scenes loyalist Pence is under pressure to relay an administration plan for how to tackle the pandemic.
Harris, US senator from California and the first woman of color on a major party presidential ticket, will sharpen her attacks on the incumbents.
There appears to be little appetite, though, to repeat the disastrous opening Trump-Biden debate, when their constant interruptions and personal insults prevented Americans from hearing about the issues.
Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh acknowledged Harris will be a formidable opponent, given her experience in the Democratic primaries and US Senate.
And "remember she was a prosecutor," he told Fox News on Tuesday.
But Pence will be "very well-prepared," Murtaugh added. "It's going to be an opportunity to expose the radical leftist agenda that Biden and Harris are carrying."
Pence has been rehearsing for the debate with Pam Bondi, the former attorney general of Florida, playing the role of Harris, the Axios website reported. Harris has been practicing with Pete Buttigieg, a fellow Democratic primary candidate, standing in for Pence – both men are from Indiana.
Analysts remain confident that Harris has the perfect skill set to put the Trump administration on trial over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and an economic slump that put millions out of work.
Given Trump's diagnosis announcement two days after his own debate, the event has undergone changes, with organizers agreeing to allow Harris to be separated from Pence by plexiglass.
Both participants have tested negative for coronavirus, and Pence reportedly opposes the use of a barrier.
Still being treated with a powerful cocktail of drugs for the coronavirus after three nights in hospital, Trump was scrambling to resume his reelection campaign.
Latest polls forecast victory for Biden, with CNN giving the Democrat a national advantage of 57 percent to 41 percent among likely voters.
He and Biden are scheduled to square off again October 15, but Biden told reporters: "If he still has Covid, we shouldn't have a debate."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say people who test positive for the virus should stay home for at least 10 days after symptoms first appear, while people who become severely ill might need to stay home for up to 20 days.
"It's a very serious problem, so I will be guided by... what the docs say is the right thing to do," Biden said.
Trump has given no indication he would bow out due to his health, saying in a tweet that he is "looking forward" to the next debate.