The title question is one being brought up in a USA Today editorial by Aaron Kall. Generally, ratings for the veep debate tend to be lower than the presidential confrontations, in keeping with John Garner’s proclamation that the vice presidency was “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” (The more polite version using the word “spit” was actually a misquote.) But have recent events dramatically changed this dynamic as Kall suggests? We’re talking about more than just network ratings here. He’s positing a situation where the voters are going to be paying a lot more attention because some of them will base their choice on the bottom of the ticket rather than the top.

The momentous events of the past week greatly increase the odds that the sole debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence will have an outsize impact on the election just one month away. The presidential debate in Cleveland was marred by continual interruptions and personal insults, which the American public found disheartening. President Donald Trump’s positive coronavirus diagnosis, revealed early Friday, threw the campaign and remaining presidential debate schedule into doubt.

The most recent national polls following these tumultuous events are ominous for Trump’s reelection prospects, and Pence will have to try to stop the bleeding at the vice presidential debate Wednesday in Salt Lake City.

There is unusual interest and anticipation surrounding the Pence-Harris debate for a multitude of reasons. Undecided voters want to be confident that it’s still possible to conduct a civil and substantive political debate during such a watershed election. Given the age and health of the two presidential nominees, it’s essential for Harris and Pence to reassure voters they are capable of stepping into the role of commander in chief at a moment’s notice.

Some of the points that Kall attempts to make strike me as reductive and based on ideologically slanted assumptions. For one thing, he posits that the raucous nature of the first debate between Trump and Biden was so “disruptive” (or insert a negative adjective of your own choosing) that everyone was turned off and they’re looking for examples of more civil discourse. I would argue that the people complaining the most about Trump’s performance are the same ones that would have kvetched if he’d shown up carrying a bouquet of flowers for Uncle Joe and spent the entire time talking about what a swell fellow he is. But Trump’s supporters expect that sort of aggressive, in-your-face attitude and those few who remain in the middle have long since grown used to the President’s confrontational nature.

But a different point that Kall makes could carry a bit more weight. Going into the 2008 election, nobody was overly concerned over Barack Obama’s odds of living out a full term or two. The guy was quite young and athletic. George W. Bush was always in pretty good health, and Bill Clinton was at least on the young side. Joe Biden, if elected, will be the oldest person to ever assume office and it shows. He seems somewhat frail during his infrequent public appearances and questions about his mental acuity simply can’t be ignored. (Though 95% of the media does their best to do so.)

Donald Trump didn’t have the same problem previously, despite being in his 70s himself. But it’s obviously possible that his current battle with COVID-19 will be on people’s minds. For the moment he appears to be shaking it off pretty well, but this episode serves as a reminder that he remains in one of the highest-risk demographic groups for a more serious outcome. And anyone can fall victim to an unanticipated medical emergency at the age of 74. If re-elected, Trump will be in his late seventies when he leaves office.

So there is a valid concern to be considered in terms of either of these men surviving the next four years, particularly when laboring under the demands of the office and the brutal schedule that frequently entails. Is that going to make the choice of a running mate at least a somewhat larger factor when voters go to the polls? I would say that the vast majority of Trump’s base would shrug that thought off, secure in the belief that Trump will tough out any challenge that comes his way. And even if not, Mike Pence seems to be in fine shape for his age (61 years) and in full command of his faculties. He’s also reliably conservative and has been a loyal soldier on Trump’s behalf.

Conversely, it’s a fair bet that many of the liberals who will be voting for Biden probably won’t be put off about the idea of him suddenly being out of office during the first term, no matter the reason. They’re probably at least a bit excited about the prospect of the first female president and wouldn’t mind seeing that happen ahead of schedule. But as always, it comes down to those few persuadable voters in the swing states. They’re much harder to read, and the concerns expressed over the health of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden may be weighing on their minds. With all that said, I won’t be shocked if there’s at least a modest bump in the veep debate ratings over previous years.