SALT LAKE CITY – Vice President Mike Pence defended the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday night, while Democratic challenger Kamala Harris condemned “the greatest failure of any presidential administration” during a largely civil debate dominated by the coronavirus.
With President Donald Trump just days out of the hospital, Pence acknowledged that “our nation’s gone through a very challenging time this year.”
But, he said, “I want the American people to know, from the very first day, President Trump has put the health of America first.”
He promised millions of doses of a yet-to-be-announced treatment before the end of the year.
Harris insisted she would not take a vaccine if the Republican president endorsed it without the backing of medical professionals.
“Frankly, this administration has forfeited their right to reelection based on this,” she said.
There were heated exchanges at times, but overall the debate was a far more respectful affair than the opening presidential debate eight days earlier.
The prime-time meeting in Salt Lake City elevated two candidates with presidential aspirations of their own who may be asked to step into the presidency even before the end of the next term. Health questions loom over Trump, 74, who is recovering from the coronavirus, and Joe Biden, 77, who would be the oldest U.S. president ever.
Republicans want to cast the race as a choice between candidates fighting to move the country in vastly different directions.
Biden and Harris, they say, would pursue a far-left agenda bordering on socialism; the Democrats claim Trump’s administration will stoke racial and other divides, torpedo health care for people who aren’t wealthy and otherwise undercut national strength.
The candidates and moderator were separated by plexiglass shields, seated more than 12 feet apart and facing a crowd of masked audience members who faced expulsion if they removed their face coverings.
The night offered Harris a prime opportunity to energize would-be voters who have shown only modest excitement about Biden, a lifelong politician with a mixed record on race and criminal justice, particularly in his early years in the Senate.
Harris, 55, is the daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother. She is also a former prosecutor whose questioning of Trump’s appointees and court nominees helped make her a Democratic star.
Pence is a 61-year-old former Indiana governor and ex-radio host, an evangelical Christian known for his folksy charm. While he is Trump’s biggest public defender, the vice president does not share the president’s brash tone or undisciplined style.
The candidates also clashed on taxes – or specifically, Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns four years after repeatedly promising to do so. The New York Times reported last month that the president pays little personal income tax but owes hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.
“It’d be really good to know who the president owes money to,” Harris said.
“The one thing we know about Joe, he puts it all out there. He is honest, he is forthright,” she said. “Donald Trump, on the other hand, has been about covering up everything.”
Pence defended Trump as a job creator who has paid more than his fair share of taxes and shifted toward Biden: “On Day One, Joe Biden’s going to raise your taxes.”
While the debate covered a range of topics, the virus was at the forefront.
Trump released a video just three hours before the debate calling his diagnosis “a blessing in disguise” because it shed light on an experimental antibody combination that he credited for his improved condition.
Both Pence and Harris released updated coronavirus test results ahead of the debate proving they were negative as of Tuesday.
Some Democrats suggested that Pence should not be at the debate at all.
The vice president attended an event last week at the White House with Trump and others who have since tested positive, but Pence’s doctors insist he does not need to quarantine under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Pence said Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is a “brilliant woman” who will bring a lifetime of experience and “a sizable American family” to the nation’s highest court.
During the debate, Pence and Harris were asked how their respective states of Indiana and California should handle abortion if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Pence, an abortion opponent, warned against attacks on Barrett’s Roman Catholic faith and mentioned her large family of seven children.
Pence said he wouldn’t presume to say how Barrett would vote on Roe. But as a candidate in 2016, Pence often told conservative crowds that Trump would appoint justices who would send Roe to the “dust bin of history.”
Harris said it was “insulting” to suggest that she and Biden would knock anyone for their faith. She noted that Biden is Catholic, and she criticized Republicans for rushing to confirm Barrett.
Harris said she will “always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body.”
There was briefly another participant swooping into the debate.
For several minutes, a fly landed in Pence’s hair, not moving as he answered questions about racial injustice and whether justice has been done in the death of Breonna Taylor.
Conversation about the fly briefly dominated corners of Twitter, where debate watchers discussed their distraction and inability to focus on Pence and Harris’ answers.
Wednesday’s intruder wasn’t the first to take center stage at an election year debate. In 2016, a fly briefly landed between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s eyes during a town hall-style debate with Trump.
Pence said hesitation on behalf of the Obama administration is to blame for the death of a humanitarian worker killed and abused by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Relatives of Kayla Mueller were among Pence’s guests at the debate.
During the debate, Pence said that, when Biden was vice president, the Obama administration “hesitated” in moving on al-Baghdadi, and when forces finally went in, Mueller had been moved to another location.
Mueller was kidnapped and held for 18 months before her death was announced in early 2015.
Pence said Mueller’s family believes that, if Trump had been in office, “Kayla would be alive today.”
Al-Baghdadi was killed during a special forces raid in Syria in 2019.
Speaking to Mueller’s family, Harris said, “What happened to her was awful and it should have never happened.”
Even as President Donald Trump casts doubt on the general election, Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams said Wednesday that voters can have confidence in balloting in the commonwealth.
Joining the Bowling Green Rotary Club via video conference, Adams addressed the statements from Trump, who has called mail-in ballots “a disaster” and expressed fears of a “rigged election.”
“The president says some things that don’t apply to Kentucky,” said Adams, a Republican. “The concerns he has raised are not applicable to our state. We have a safe system that’s not going to disenfranchise anybody.”
To back up that assessment, Adams pointed to the success of the primary election that was delayed from May to June and was heavily dependent on absentee voting.
With limited in-person voting, that primary election drew criticism from some national political figures, including 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who made accusations of voter suppression in Kentucky.
“Our system was attacked by Hillary Clinton and others,” said Adams, a Paducah native who served on the State Board of Elections before defeating Democrat Heather French Henry for secretary of state in 2019. “I’m really proud of what our state has done.”
Adams worked with Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, to come up with a system that he says made it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
The result was a better-than-expected 29 percent voter turnout that Adams said couldn’t have happened without the expanded absentee voting.
“We made absentee balloting widely available,” Adams said. “The governor and I were both on the same hymn book. Three out of four voters voted absentee.”
Despite that departure from traditional elections, Adams said the primary ran smoothly. “There was no fraud and no voter suppression,” he said. “I’m really proud of that.”
Now, with a much higher voter turnout expected for the Nov. 3 general election that includes U.S. presidential and U.S. Senate races, Adams is trying to accommodate the pandemic and that expected higher number of voters.
“My goal is to get as close to normal as possible and also preserve the options made available in June,” Adams said. “We’ve kept the best of what worked in the primary.”
Expecting a voter turnout of better than 70 percent for the general election, Adams said steps had to be taken to increase in-person voting and reduce dependence on absentee balloting.
“We can’t handle three-fourths of the votes being absentee,” he said. “We don’t have the infrastructure. We’re scaling back the absentee voting but keeping it for those who need it. We can’t have unlimited absentee voting.”
Adams said absentee voting is supposed to be reserved for those who may be vulnerable because of age or health issues to COVID-19.
A portal to request an absentee ballot was made available at govoteky.com, but Adams said it will close at midnight Friday.
Starting Tuesday, Kentucky’s expanded in-person voting will begin. Unlike the primary, which saw most counties with only one polling place open on Election Day, the general election will see multiple polling places open in each county in addition to locations for early voting.
“We’re significantly increasing the availability of in-person voting,” Adams said.
In Warren County, for example, six polling locations will be open Nov. 3. One of those, the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center on College Street, will be available for early in-person voting starting Oct. 13.
SKyPAC will be open weekdays until Nov. 2 from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and on three Saturdays from 8 a.m. until noon.
It will also be open on Nov. 3 from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., as will polling locations at Warren Central High School, Living Hope Baptist Church, Buchanon Park, Phil Moore Park and Ephram White Park. Any Warren County registered voter can vote at any of the six locations.
“There will be 19 election days this year,” Adams said. “We’re trying hard to space out the voting. We don’t want to have lines on Election Day. My goal is to get people to vote before Election Day.”
To meet that goal, Adams said his office has worked with county clerks to help find election officers.
“We have found more than 5,000 poll workers to help us increase the number of voting locations,” he said. “Some counties have opened every precinct.”
Adams believes the system put in place for the general election will allow for election results to be largely tabulated by election night.
“The more people who vote in person, the quicker we can count the votes,” Adams said. “I think we’ll have 80 percent or more counted on election night.”
Although he would like to see some expansion of absentee voting continue in future elections, Adams isn’t confident that the changes he and Beshear hammered out will continue.
“Everything we’ve done this year is via emergency powers,” Adams said. “I’m grateful to the state legislature for granting those powers, but I have a low degree of optimism about permanent changes.”
The changes put in place also come with added costs, which Adams said can’t be sustained.
“This has doubled the cost of running the election,” Adams said. “This year, it has mostly been Congress paying for it. They have given us a number of grants. In the future, it (the cost) would be on us.”
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.
Western Kentucky University is starting a national search this week for its next provost and vice president of academic affairs, WKU President Timothy Caboni said in a campuswide message Monday.
The search for WKU’s next top academic officer won’t include a search firm, university spokesman Bob Skipper told the Daily News. It will by staffed and supported internally and led by WKU College of Health and Human Services Dean Tania Basta and Executive Vice President Susan Howarth.
“Given the other searches proceeding across the nation, we are confident in our ability to attract a strong applicant pool. We appreciate the continued leadership and diligence of Provost Cheryl Stevens, ensuring WKU continues to make progress toward the goals outlined in our strategic plan,” Caboni wrote in his message.
Acting Provost Stevens accepted the job in April 2019 after then-Provost Terry Ballman resigned under faculty pressure, including a campaign that ended in a decisive no-confidence vote from WKU’s Faculty Senate targeting Caboni’s first major hire as president.
Ballman had been in the role for less than a year and was ultimately ousted from the position after controversy stemming from the sudden resignation of Potter College of Arts and Letters Dean Larry Snyder, who has since been reinstated.
Ballman has since parted ways with WKU.
Stevens is more than a year into an expected two-year stint as acting provost.
She moved up from her previous role as dean of the Ogden College of Science and Engineering.
Asked if Stevens will be eligible for the permanent provost position, Skipper said the search is open to both internal and external candidates.
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.
United Way of Southern Kentucky has invited nonprofit organizations to submit an initial request to fund programs that affect community education, income, health or safety net services in the 2021-22 funding cycle.
The written application period began Monday and will end at 4 p.m. Oct. 23.
“In the previous five years, we have given away millions of dollars to our 10-county region,” United Way Director of Community Impact Ashley Carter said. “The letter of intent is that key first step for organizations to really make their self known in this process.”
A United Way regional committee will review the letters of intent. Proposals that demonstrate meaningful impact in one of the priority areas/strategies will be invited to submit a full community impact grant application.
Carter said programs that have been in the community for a long time and are able to showcase their impact and results have a very good chance of being selected for funding.
All programs and organizations that meet requirements for funding need to send in a letter of intent, Carter said.
United Way’s community impact funding model began in 2016 based upon results of a research project that included more than 5,000 surveys of the area.
The seven priority areas within the four defined key strategy areas are kindergarten readiness, college and career readiness, workforce development, access to affordable health care, safe home and community, transportation and access to basic needs.
In the last fiscal year, Warren County organizations received $508,000 from the agency’s community impact funding.
“It’s definitely a very exciting time,” Carter said of the new funding period. “There are a lot of moving parts with the process, but everyone is hard at work. In today’s time during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have struggled so it is even more vital for us to provide these funds. We are very proud to do it.”
– The submission link for letters can be found at www.uwsk.org/partner- funding-process.
– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.