In previous election cycles, most Vice Presidential debates have been of little consequence to the outcome of the election. Yes, it’s a chance for the V.P. picks to showcase their debate skills and carry out the task of attacking their opponent, but it rarely does much to change the fact that voters are typically voting for President, not Vice President.

In 2020, however, with President Trump hospitalized for precautions battling Covid-19, and former Vice President Joe Biden unwilling to commit serving beyond a single term, the Vice Presidential debate could be very crucial for voters to observe.

2020 Vice Presidential Debate 
Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris
Date: Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Time: 9 pm ET (8 pm CT, 7 pm MT, 6 pm PT)
How to Watch: ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and more!
Location: The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Moderator: Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today
More details including start time, live stream, and how to watch…

For Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, the pressure will be on to defend their candidate’s record and advance their candidate’s cause before a national audience at this crucial time in history:

Mr. Trump’s diagnosis with a potentially lethal virus — and the fact that he is 74 and his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., is 77 — was a stark reminder that either Mr. Pence or Ms. Harris could end up being president themselves, as opposed to just leading contenders for the nomination in 2024 and beyond.

For Mr. Pence, Wednesday’s debate will most likely compel him to account for the administration’s record on a virus that has now infected 7.4 million Americans — including the most protected man in the country, Mr. Trump — and answer for his own stewardship as chairman of the federal coronavirus task force.

For Ms. Harris, a former prosecutor, the debate is a chance to show that she is capable of being president in a national emergency, as well as to demonstrate that she can challenge the Trump record on Covid-19 without seeming overly aggressive against an ailing president.

Whether or not President Trump will be able to attend the Oct. 15 debate still remains an open question. This means that Pence is the main face of the campaign for the time being and the main torchbearer on the debate stage.

The other fascinating part of the 2020 V.P. debate is that it could be a preview of 2024 when it’s likely that Pence and Harris could be running at the top of the ticket:

The VP debate, normally a snoozefest, looms large because Biden turns 78 next month and has on occasion appeared incoherent and confused. Many doubt his ability to serve a full four years, much less eight. That puts the heat on Harris, who could become president if Biden wins and is forced to retire.

The VP face-off will also likely be a dress rehearsal for 2024. Win or lose on Nov. 3, Harris will almost certainly be a Democrat presidential candidate four years from now; Mike Pence could well top the Republican ticket.

With regard to President Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis, stricter health guidelines will be imposed for the VP debate with some changes that include a greater physical distance between the candidates on stage:

The Commission on Presidential Debates has agreed to seat Kamala Harris and Mike Pence 12 feet apart at the vice presidential debate next week, after the Biden campaign raised health and safety objections to the original spacing between the two candidates because of Covid concerns.

Negotiations had been underway before President Donald Trump announced early Friday that he had tested positive for Covid-19. But they became especially fraught throughout the day, after the Biden campaign and others who attended the Tuesday presidential debate in Cleveland were undergoing testing to make sure they hadn‘t been infected at the debate. Concerns heightened after 11 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in Cleveland stemming from the debate, the city government disclosed on Friday.

Despite a desire by the Trump campaign to pivot away from Coronavirus and focus on the economy, the President’s situation has made that focus nearly impossible. Pence will certainly try and obviously the entire 90 minutes won’t be exclusive to Covid, but the balance of time probably will be.

The Biden campaign has been playing fairly safe when it comes to attacking a sitting President currently infirmed fighting off a potentially deadly virus. As soon as the President’s diagnosis was announced on Friday, Biden pulled all negative campaign ads. It’s customarily bad form to attack someone when they’re ill, and Harris will have to balance her attacks during the debate with sensitivity.

Tune in Wednesday for the Vice Presidential debate and follow the debate schedule for more details.