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A week ago, tonight’s debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris might have seemed like the undercard, a warm-up act to get voters ready for the real thing.

Of course, after the mockery that was the first presidential debate, many voters were asking themselves whether there should even be another debate between the two presidential candidates. That first contest had been such an embarrassment that some suggested the two remaining matchups between Donald Trump and Joe Biden should just be scrapped.

Though the president and many of his supporters thought he had performed well, most observers disagreed.

The Washington Post estimated the two candidates had interrupted moderator Chris Wallace or each other 90 times in 90 minutes. The president accounted for 71 of those interruptions.

Lots of folks had ideas for what might help. Perhaps the debate commission could make some rule changes, or maybe the moderator could be given the power to cut off the offending candidate’s microphone.

Others were skeptical any of it would help. All those interruptions, after all, were already against the rules.

What any remaining debates really need are two candidates who will abide by the rules already in place.

In the immediate aftermath of that first debate, many Americans found themselves hoping the vice presidential candidates would set an example for their running mates to follow. Perhaps that alone would be accomplishment enough.

Then came news that the president had been diagnosed with COVID-19. He would be under quarantine in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Suddenly, that undercard took on much greater significance. In an election featuring a 74-year-old president fighting a potentially deadly virus and a challenger who will be 78 come Inauguration Day, choosing someone to be a heartbeat away from the presidency takes on greater meaning.

With the president’s health a question mark, Wednesday’s debate might be voters’ last chance to see the two campaigns going head to head discussing the issues.

Pence, the current vice president and former Indiana governor, will no doubt face questions about the administration’s handling of a virus that has now infected more than 7.4 million Americans and killed more than 210,000. It was Pence, after all, who was directed by the president to lead the federal coronavirus task force.

Harris, a current U.S. senator and former prosecutor, will face the task of challenging the president on his coronavirus record without seeming to beat up on him while he’s down. She might also be asked to respond to assertions by some conservatives that she would be the one pulling the strings in a Biden White House.

Then there’s a Supreme Court vacancy, climate change, the Affordable Care Act, immigration and numerous other issues.

Needless to say, the candidates will have much to talk about. Voters would be well advised to tune in.

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