John McCain once explained why he had no interest in being the president’s second-in-command.

“The vice president has two jobs, one is to inquire daily about the president’s health, the other is to attend the funerals of third world dictators. Neither of them is an enjoyable exercise.”

He wasn’t the only one in Washington who saw the “Veep” function as a political joke – all the party and not much power.

But in 2020 – and, of course, in 2020 – the vice presidency has suddenly gained very real significance in American politics.

And tonight’s first and only debate between the two candidates – an event often seen as a side show – is now a significant moment in this race for the White House.

Because the possibility that Mike Pence or Kamala Harris will one day take the big job isn’t as far-fetched as their predecessors might have been.

That old vice president’s chestnut being “within a heartbeat of the presidency” actually means something when the president gets a deadly virus. Pence may indeed need to “inquire about the president’s health.”

He placed his leadership credentials in the public eye at a time of extreme uncertainty.

Harris would serve as president who, if elected, would be the oldest person ever installed. It is widely rumored that Biden will only seek one term in office, and Harris will run for president in 2024.

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Perspex screens will separate Pines and Harris during the discussion

He cast their 90-minute debut on the debate platform in Salt Lake City, 12 feet away, as a test of the Commander in Chief’s job.

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Trump’s illness, along with Pence’s role as chair of the Coronavirus Task Force at the White House, will certainly put their handling of the pandemic high on the agenda of the debate.

The vice president is seen as an irresistible worker, but Harris has shown time and time again how she honed her advocacy skills for the sake of the political stage.

Her opponents have been quick to spark controversy over criminal justice since that time as a prosecutor to question her record.

How happy she is sitting on a presidential card with Biden, the man who robbed him of his record in a Democrat debate, may also feature in Pence’s offensive streak.

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Thankfully, it should be a very different scene from last week’s shameful debate between Trump and Biden. We can only hope.

It remains unclear if these two will be able to complete the remaining two presidential debates with so much uncertainty.

For that reason alone, Pence and Harris and an important debate are bound to be seen.

As former Vice President, John Adams, once said of the job: “In this I am nothing but I may be everything.”

:: You can watch the Vice President’s debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris on Thursday at 2 am live via Sky News and Sky News online