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VP debate takes on greater importance this election cycle, professor says

From Trump’s COVID diagnosis to the age of the candidates, Northwestern experts weigh in on issues to be addressed at Wednesday’s debate

EVANSTON, Ill. - Northwestern University professors from politics, history, business, African American studies and law are available to discuss key issues on the table for the upcoming vice-presidential debate on Oct. 7, including the handling of the pandemic and stalled economic recovery, the general age and health of the presidential candidates, and issues of race and gender. 

Connect with faculty directly using the contact information below, or reach out to media relations for assistance.

Find more sources available to comment on COVID-19President Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis, the  2020 elections and topics of diversity, equity and inclusion in our online press kits.

Interview the experts about the vice presidential debate

Phillip Braun

Clinical professor of finance and associate chair of the finance department at Kellogg

Braun specializes in the study of emerging market economies and financial markets.

Contact Professor Braun through Molly Lynch at (773) 505-9719 or

“The VP debate takes on greater importance this election cycle given the age of the presidential candidates and the fact that Trump is hospitalized with COVID-19. Pence will be called on to justify the administration’s approach to managing the pandemic, which becomes more questionable due to Trump’s hospitalization. Furthermore, the Trump post-pandemic economic expansion is stalling, and Pence needs to be called to task on that. Harris needs to be prepared with clear concise answers as to how Biden will respond to the pandemic and what his economic plan is.”

Nitasha Sharma

Associate professor of Asian American and African American studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Sharma is available to talk about mixed-race identity and politics, specifically dual minority biracials, Kamala Harris and Barack Obama, and Black and Asian relations.

“Events this week surrounding the White House and the incumbent shape, but do not determine the dynamics in the VP debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence on Wednesday. On the one hand, the Biden/Harris ticket is a strong alternative to Trump; on the other hand, their platform is a familiar democratic ticket. Still, Harris represents something new, an opportunity for us to revisit our assumptions about race in the U.S. She is able to appeal to voters that neither Trump/Pence nor Biden alone can because of her identity and story. These voters include White democrats, women of color, non-White and immigrant voters, and those looking for a different voice. This may elevate Biden’s appeal to questioning or disappointed voters, making this vice-presidential debate uniquely impactful for disaffected voters. However, as a woman, a Black woman, and a biracial woman of color, the bar will be much higher for Harris to explain how her identity informed her work as a district attorney and how her policies as someone who works within the framework of the legal system affected the lives of Black people -- men, women and children -- in disproportionately negative ways.” 


Laurel Harbridge-Yong

Associate professor of political science and a faculty fellow in Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR)

Harbridge-Yong is an expert on partisan conflict in American politics

“The lack of policy substance in the first presidential debate may mean the policy message of each campaign is all the more important in the vice presidential debate. Trump’s COVID diagnosis and the general age of the candidates may also lead the public to view the VP debate as particularly important this year.”  


Alvin B. Tillery Jr.

Associate professor of political science

Tillery's research and teaching interests are in the fields of American politics and political theory. His research focuses on American political development, racial and ethnic politics and media and politics.

"The fact that President Trump and so many of his associates have recently contracted COVID-19 should not surprise anyone. After all, we saw other world leaders – most notably Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, who scoffed at the recommendations of the scientific community – contract the virus earlier in the pandemic.

"We also should recall that one of Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters, Herman Cain, who had himself run for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, died of COVID-19 in the wake of attending Mr. Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Indeed, given his egregious flouting of the recommendations of his own task force, the real surprise is that the White House did not become a hot zone for infections much earlier in the pandemic.

"What we now know is that Mr. Trump has received the most cutting edge medical interventions to prevent him from having too severe a course with the disease. From a strategic standpoint, this makes perfect sense. We absolutely need the American president to be given aggressive treatment to preserve our chain of command and shore up our national security. The big question is: how will Mr. Trump behave when he emerges from Walter Reed Hospital?

"Based on my observations of him over the past four years, I predict that he will not course correct in terms of his personal behavior nor his management of the virus. It will be too close to the election to change his message that things are getting better and that we should rush full steam ahead to fully reopen the country.

"This messaging likely will land flat on a public that has seen 200,000 of their fellow citizens die from the virus. Plus, the fact that his own health will have been preserved through experimental medicine while the average American has no hope of receiving such interventions if they were to fall sick will create further distance between him and a restive electorate that looks eager to oust him from office."


Jaime Dominguez

Associate professor in the department of political science and the Latino/a studies program

His research interests include race and ethnicity, coalition politics and urban and minority politics.

“Now that President Trump has contracted COVID-19 and the White House is a hot spot, the Trump Campaign must come clean about the seriousness of the virus. By downplaying Trump’s illness, with “if he can beat it, anyone can,” puts the general public, and in particular his supporters, in an even more vulnerable state, and provides an excuse to dismiss CDC guidelines.”  


Juliet Sorensen

Clinical professor of law and executive director of Injustice Watch

Sorensen is an expert on corruption and obstruction as well as health and human rights.

From 2003-2010, Sorensen was an assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago, focusing on fraud and public corruption.