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What to watch in the vice presidential debate

Nia-Malika Henderson | 10/4/2016, 4 p.m.
Pence needs to help Donald Trump recover from his lost week and re-focus his message, as well as convince people ...
A picture inside Longwood University in Farmville, VA where the Vice Presidential Debate takes place on Tuesday, October 4, 2016. Travis Sattiewhite/CNN

— (CNN) -- Sen. Tim Kaine and Gov. Mike Pence come into Tuesday night's debate with a mission.

Pence needs to help Donald Trump recover from his lost week and re-focus his message, as well as convince people the White House is in good hands with the unpredictable Trump. Kaine wants ensure Hillary Clinton can solidify her post-debate gains in several swing states and in national polls.

Here are five things to watch when the vice presidential nominees sit down for their only debate:

How will Pence respond to Trump's troubles?

On releasing tax returns, birtherism, debate prep and name-calling, Pence has chosen to go his own way during the campaign. He has also talked about his record in Indiana as a conservative governor. That daylight has left Trump in a somewhat awkward position and it's allowed Pence to maintain a future in politics.

But breaking with your opponent in a studio interview is one thing, doing it on stage next to an opponent who wants to pummel your running mate is something else entirely.

Pence has to defend Trump, who is boasting about "brilliantly" using tax laws for his benefit, after a New York Times story outlining a more than $900 million loss and suggesting he may not have paid federal income taxes for 18 years beginning in 1995. Look for Kaine to possibly exploit the fact that Pence has been transparent in releasing his taxes, compared to Trump who hasn't released them and is the nominee. And the Virginia senator will no doubt talk about Trump's temperament as commander-in-chief.

Pence will go on the attack against Clinton's policy record. Trump missed opportunities at the first debate to go after Clinton on obvious lines of attack like the Clinton Foundation and Benghazi. Pence, a former talk-show host, won't make the same mistake. "Hillary's record on foreign affairs alone could literally take up the entire 90 minutes and it wouldn't be pretty," he told supporters Monday night.

How personal does it get?

Donald Trump and his surrogates have spent the last week suggesting that this race will get nastier. Trump hinted that the next big debate topic would be the Clinton's marriage. He questioned Saturday night whether Clinton was loyal to her husband -- without offering any evidence that she isn't -- and mimicked her stumbling to a car when she was ill with pneumonia.

Meanwhile, Clinton and her surrogates have hammered Trump over comments he made about a former beauty pageant and for pushing birtherism.

Focusing too much on personality -- rather than substance -- could further turn off swing voters. But for Kaine, picking up the baton from Clinton, who had a successful performance, that could mean getting more distance in the polls. And for Pence, floating Clinton's marital troubles could lay the groundwork for Trump as a kind of trial balloon.

And also look for Kaine to highlight Pence's record on LGBT issues to paint the GOP ticket as out of step with swing voters. "I've been in elected life for 22 years, it's not knowing another fact, but it is about thinking hard about the material, thinking hard about Pence's record, and also what Pence's record would say about the guy who chose him, since it really is more about Donald Trump than it is about Gov. Pence," Kaine said about his approach to the debate.