Final thoughts – John will have his own assessment of this debate up shortly, but it’s clear that Pence did a much better job projecting calm leadership and policy depth. Kaine, whether it was his strategy or not, spent most of the evening repeating the same tired attack lines, and ended looking like nothing more than a soundbite mouthpiece. I doubt this will impact the polls much, but Kaine should be glad he doesn’t have to do this again — and the Trump campaign should give serious consideration to putting Pence front and center in the final stretch.

As for the moderation … Quijano sure seemed anxious to cut off discussion of Hillary’s email scandal after bringing up cybersecurity, eh? Quijano also seemed more inclined to press Pence on his points than she did with Kaine. Count me as unimpressed.

10:34 – Final answers might be the best moments for both men. Pence gets the final word, and he’s framing this as a change election – a wise appeal to the populists in the audience.

10:31 – Pretty revealing debate on abortion. Might have been the most revealing of the evening.

10:27 – On faith, Kaine has stopped interrupting … finally. Pence makes the pro-life argument, and Kaine now says he supports abortion. I bet his Catholic bishop will have a few things to say about it.

10:23 – We’re only getting to social issues in the last 15 minutes? I wouldn’t have guessed that would be the case.

10:18 – The Clinton Foundation is not a higher rated charity than the Red Cross, no matter what Kaine says. Charity Navigator won’t rate them at all. Update: I’m told that CN reinstated their rating last month.

10:18 – Pence brings up “pay to play politics” and the Foundation, but still didn’t bring up Uranium One.

10:16 – A good question from Joel Pollak:

Pence should have made this point.

10:14 – “This is the grade-school thing again.” Maybe the problem is that they didn’t write Kaine enough zingers, because he keeps repeating them over and over again.

10:09 – Kaine’s blowing this debate by overreliance on sound-bite attacks when Pence is providing policy depth. Even the soundbites aren’t working:

10:07 – At least we know Tim Kaine’s scoring system.

10:05 – Two-thirds of the way through, and I still think Pence is showing more command and authority, especially with his depth of policy. Kaine’s relying on interruptions.

10:02 – Kaine dropped the Putin bomb, but then diluted it with kitchen-sink attacks and now wants to keep interrupting about tax returns. It sounds like he really, really wants to change the subject.

10:00 – More from Luntz:

9:58 – Pence brings up the Russian reset button, calling it Hillary’s “first priority.” Kaine’s seems rattled, but he’s probably itching to drop the Putin bomb in the response.

9:56 – Kaine keeps claiming that Iran has shut down its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Again, who’s he hoping to convince?

9:56 – Hugh makes a good point:

9:54 – Kaine somehow gave Pence a wide opening to make he and Trump the guarantor of national security.

9:49 – One interesting difference between the two. Pence looks directly into the camera more, clearly aiming at the TV audience. Kaine is looking almost exclusively at either Pence or Quijano.

9:46 – “Terrorism has declined in some aspects,” Kaine claims, because Osama bin Laden is dead. Does anyone actually believe that? That’s a dumb, dumb, “micturating on your head” moment.

9:43 – Good answer on “deportation force” from Pence, by reminding him that the ICE union has endorsed Trump.

9:40 – Pence drops the “basket of deplorables” on Kaine. Quijano has rebuked Pence twice for interrupting the follow-up, but so far I haven’t heard much from Quijano on Kaine’s serial interruptions.

9:35 – Quijano follows up with a challenge to Pence’s position … again. Still no challenge to Kaine. Pence is not getting rattled at all, but Kaine’s barely able to keep his seat.

9:32 – Pence drops the NFOP endorsement into the debate, and then talks about Bradley Vinson and the nonsensical accusation of “implicit bias” in the shooting in which he was involved. Pence finishes with a “how dare you” moment. Kaine then plays a bit of defense.

9:30 – Kaine says that all he and Hillary want to do with guns is close background-check loopholes. Anyone buy that?

9:27 – Kaine is sounding more and more desperate to interrupt. That’s not a good look for Kaine.

9:26 –From Frank Luntz earlier:

9:24 – Kaine is scoring a few points on the tax returns, but Pence is giving some good responses. Still on defensive, though.

9:23 – Quijano follows up on a Pence non-answer, but hasn’t done the same with Kaine.

9:20 – In truth, both tickets have serious issues with their economic plans, but Kaine’s not doing a very good job in dissecting Trump’s. Pence is now burning Kaine for using “prewritten lines.”

9:19 – Kaine keeps trying to deliver clearly prewritten lines referring to Trump’s reality-TV career. He’s not very good at it, and he’s talking too fast. He sounds nervous.

9:18 – Pence gets a pretty good stretch to talk about the economy and paints Kaine as a profligate tax-raiser who couldn’t balance the Virginia budget.

9:17 – So far, Pence looks calm and collected, while Kaine looks like he’s had one too many cups of coffee.

9:14 – Kaine revives the “Osama Bin Laden was alive” brag. Pence counters with ISIS, and Kaine is now is claiming that’s Bush’s fault.

9:12 – Pence: “You and Hillary Clinton would know about an insult-driven campaign.” When Pence hit Hillary on her foreign-policy failures, Kaine started interrupting, and continued after Quijano asked him to let Pence finish.

9:10 – Kaine says we should trust Hillary because she has the same passions she did as a youth. Eh, sure. Kaine didn’t even answer the question about e-mails and the Clinton Foundation, and instead jumped on Trump’s “Mexican rapists” comments. No follow-up from Quijano.

9:09 – Aha! Pence actually answers the question by talking about his experience.

9:08 – Pence starts off by not answering the question, either, which is what makes them prepared to take over if necessary. It’s pretty clear that both men are oriented to talking about their running mates rather than themselves.

9:05 – Right off the bat, the “heartbeat away” question. Kaine then talks about school segregation and Hillary Clinton. It’s a prepared speech, and a pretty good one. He’s not really answering the question Quijano asked, though.

9:03 – And we’re underway. 90 minutes to go.

9:02 – I assume we’re holding for three minutes to give the networks some talk time.

9:00 – Five minutes of silence and counting, except for a sneeze. Who says debates are boring?

8:55 – And if you’re watching C-SPAN, you can experience the gripping coverage of Quijano’s back for the next couple of minutes, too.

8:54 – Quijano warns the audience that they are not to react at all during the debate. This is a pet peeve; if they don’t want a live-audience response, then don’t hold the debates before a live audience. What’s the point?

8:50 – CBS digital anchor Elaine Quijano will moderate tonight’s debate, the first Asian-American to do so, according to USA Today. She’s already figured out one key to maintaining some credibility: she hasn’t tweeted in a month.

8:44 pm ET – Great news, everyone — we can skip watching the debate. The RNC has already declared that Mike Pence won it, thanks to his “top moments” on the economy and on “highlighting Hillary’s scandals.” I think I’ll still watch it to verify that clearly objective analysis, however. C-SPAN has the preliminaries on now, so get your popcorn ready.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new bar for determining the success or failure of tonight’s vice-presidential debate. Mike Pence spoke to a crowd in Ashland, Virginia, 80 miles from Longwood University in Farmville, where he will go toe to toe with Tim Kaine in their only matchup of the season. Speaking about media bias and spin, Governor Pence ridiculed the attempts by news organizations to attack running mate Donald Trump, and offered a salty aside:

“It’s like almost every day they come up with something new and different,” Pence said Monday in Ashland, Va. “They say, ‘Now we got him.’ ‘He said this.’ ‘We can parse that.’ You with me?”

” ‘He tweeted this.’ And they think they finally got him. And then they turn on the television the next morning and Donald Trump is still standing stronger than ever before and fighting for the American people,” Pence told the crowd.

“This s— really is fun to watch, I’ll tell you what.”

Will tonight’s, er, stuff be really fun to watch? Let’s hope it will be at least somewhat entertaining, but this looks more like an opportunity for the race to get serious … at least for a moment. Both Pence and Kaine are well-versed in policy, have had considerable experience in both Washington and as governors, and might seem better prepared for the top spot than both of their running mates. Some of the debate will get spent on attacking and defending those partners, but perhaps some might go to hearing answers on issues that will drive the vote in November.

In my debate preview for The Week, I outline some broad objectives for both men:

On policy, Kaine has to find a way to bring his party’s progressive wing and the moderate wing together. He’ll want to emphasize the prosperity of the Bill Clinton era and suggest that Hillary Clinton’s policies will help bring those good times back, while highlighting her focus on income inequality. Tax policies and regulatory changes will support those arguments, and would eclipse the personal issues that have dogged her campaign. Kaine can also emphasize his ability to coordinate with Congress for bipartisan consensus, while attacking Trump for his superficial approach to policy.

Pence has a tougher task: making voters comfortable enough to cast a vote for Trump, a job that got even tougher over the past week. The Indiana governor will have to demonstrate that he and Trump have policy depth on a wide range of issues. Pence, a fiscal conservative in Congress and as governor of Indiana, can certainly delve into tax and regulatory policies in depth, and has at least an equal standing with Kaine on foreign policy. If Pence can establish his own credentials on both domestic and foreign-policy issues that really matter to voters, he can go a long way toward easing concerns about Trump’s temperament.

Pence also needs to follow up on Trump’s most effective argument in the first debate, one which he inexplicably dropped in the middle of a scrum over temperament issues. Both Clinton and Kaine have been around Washington in one capacity or another for a long time, which makes them vulnerable on why their policy goals haven’t been achieved. Trump reminded the audience more than once that Clinton had been around for “30 years” without truly achieving much of her agenda; Pence needs to up the ante on that and get specific. Populist fervor against a business-as-usual establishment rocked both parties in their primaries. If Pence can precisely and specifically pin that tail on the Clinton-Kaine donkey in this debate, it could help reset the narrative for the election.

My prediction: Pence has a better stage presence than Kaine, and more ability to leverage his position as an outsider. It would surprise me if either man does poorly — Kaine will be well prepared — but I’m going to predict that Pence will outperform his rival.

I’ll be live-blogging the debate in the usual fashion, with updates going to the top in reverse-chronological order. Stay tuned for some final thoughts in a separate post.