Harris' husband, Doug Emhoff, and Second Lady Karen Pence were among the guests at Wednesday's event
VP Debate
From left: Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris at Wednesday's debate.
| Credit: Getty Images (2)

A small, socially distanced crowd was on hand in Salt Lake City on Wednesday night to witness a much more tame political debate between Democratic nominee Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence, the Republican incumbent.

The Commission on Presidential Debates made sure to keep the limited crowd in check this time around, after some unwillingness in Donald Trump's family to wear protective masks during last week's debate raised eyebrows later on when the president and First Lady Melania Trump fell ill with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Still, while debate organizers said attendees had to wear a mask while in the audience, Second Lady Karen Pence did not wear a protective mask when she joined Vice President Pence, 61, on stage afterward.

Harris' husband, entertainment lawyer Doug Emhoff, did however wear a mask when he joined his wife, the vice presidential candidate, on stage and waved to the exiting crowd.

It was the final contrast in a night of differences, after the candidates debated healthcare, China, the Supreme Court, race and policing and other topics

Among Wednesday night's guests for the candidates were their spouses, local politicians, some members of their own campaign staff and select figures invited specifically by the campaigns to highlight issues being spoken about on stage.

A small group of 60 University of Utah students were also given tickets to the event.

vice presidential debate
California Sen. Kamala Harris at Wednesday's debate with Vice President Mike Pence
| Credit: getty images

Sen. Kamala Harris' Guests

Harris' husband traveled alongside his wife to Salt Lake City days ahead of Wednesday night's debate.

Emhoff, 55, shared a photo of him and Harris, also 55, together before the debate along with a supportive note: "I’ve got you, and you’ve got this. So proud of you. Love, Dougie." He topped off the message with a heart emoji.

Harris' family, including sister Maya and her niece, Meena, also live-tweeted the event as they watched remotely.

As far as in-person guests, the Biden campaign invited local Utah Rep. Sandra Hollins, the first Black woman in Utah's legislature, and fellow state Rep. Angela Romero.

The campaign also invited Deborah Gatrell, a veteran and full-time high school teacher who is running for a seat on the Salt Lake County Council.

The Democratic campaign said Harris' guests of Gatrell and Rep. Romero "both showcase the resolve hard-working Americans have shown as Donald Trump has failed to control the virus and save the economy."

“I’m just enamored of her,” Romero told The Salt Lake City Tribune before the event. “So I’ll be fan-girling.”

Romero tweeted a photo there with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. (Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was also in attendance.)

vice presidential debate
Vice President Mike Pence
| Credit: getty images

Vice President Mike Pence's Guests

The Republican Party's guest list was similar to its list of convention speakers in August, beyond the second lady.

Pence's guests included Ann Dorn, the wife of slain St. Louis police Capt. David Dorn, who was killed in an incident that occurred during protests this summer. She spoke at the Republican National Convention in August.

Carl and Marsha Mueller, the parents of Kayla Mueller, who was killed after she was kidnapped in 2013 by Islamic State militants, were also present. They also spoke at the RNC two months ago.

The Muellers' daughter was in Syria providing humanitarian aid at the time, and they have since heavily criticized the Barack Obama administration following her death, saying the government didn't do enough to rescue her.

Pence directly addressed the Muellers roughly an hour into the debate, while discussing foreign policy and the U.S. military overseas.

He said it “breaks my heart” while recanting the story of their daughter’s death.

“I know about your daughter’s case and I am so sorry — I am so sorry,” Harris then said after Pence spoke. “What happened to her was awful and it should’ve never happened. I know Joe feels the same way and I know President Obama feels the same."