By Makini Brice
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. vice presidential debate on Wednesday night will pitch Kamala Harris, the first woman of color on a major ticket, against a conservative male vice president - and some Americans, especially women, are gearing up to watch the fight.
Political groups, college associations and individuals around the country have organized mostly online "watch parties" as Harris debates U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who is running with President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
"I really can tell that Kamala is ready," said Rahdiah Barnes, the president of the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications in New York, which pushes for diversity in media, who has organized a non-partisan watch party online. "This is history. She has something to prove, and I've heard her say a couple of things over the past couple days, so I can know that she's getting ready for war."
The vice presidential debate normally does not attract as much attention as the presidential one. In 2016, the match-up between Pence and Tim Kaine drew 37 million, less than half of the viewers who watched Trump face off with Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
After Trump tested positive for the coronavirus last week, the two people who would be next in line for the presidency behind two septuagenarians has taken on outsized significance.
Sera Bonds, the co-founder of Waking Giants, an Austin, Texas communications company, said the online watch party she has organized for her friends and neighbors will feature Bingo cards (boxes include "mother," "birth certificate," and "Howard University") and participants will be entered in a raffle to win prizes from women-owned companies.
Women are the dominant force in U.S. elections, and made up 53% of the electorate in the 2018 midterms. Trump captured white women's votes by several points in 2016, Pew Research shows https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters, while Black women voted overwhelmingly for Clinton.
Trump's opponent this time, Democrat Joe Biden, had a 10-point edge with women voters before he picked Harris as his running mate, an August Reuters/Ipsos poll found https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-biden-harris-analysis/why-kamala-harris-may-prove-an-elusive-target-for-trump-idUSKCN25818T.
Women from across the political spectrum were gearing up to watch the debate.
Americans are looking for "a competent vice president, and a competent president," said Jo Reitkopp, co-organizer of an in-person "Women for Trump" watch party in southern California.
"It doesn’t matter what sex they are. It's nice when we're women to see women taking these positions," she added, but what’s important is whether their "heart is for the American people."
Some said they were hoping for a reset after a chaotic presidential debate.
"If there's any opportunity to get voters back and to regain their confidence again in the overall platform, this is it," said another non-partisan watch party organizer, Catherine McNeil, who heads an Illinois career development company.
"Of course there'll be some kind of mudslinging because that's politics. However, we're going to find out where each one stands. That is a given," she said.
HER, a dating application for LGBTQ people, expects about 50 people to attend its virtual watch party, which is open to Republicans and Democrats. Kris Chesson, the company's global events manager, agreed the issues will be most important.
"Last week's debate almost doesn't really count to me at all" because of how little it engaged with the issues that voters care about, said Chesson, who is based in California's Bay Area.
"This will be the first actual debate," she said. "I'm excited for that, and I'm a little sad that there's only one VP debate."
(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Heather Timmons, Lisa Shumaker and Sonya Hepinstall)