The Democratic and Republican vice presidential nominees told voters about their humble, small-town roots in their nationally televised debate Tuesday night - and then spent most of the evening cutting each other off and savaging the divisive figures atop the presidential tickets.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate, repeatedly blasted Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for refusing to release his tax returns, for making insulting comments toward women and Hispanics, and for a recent report suggesting he may have avoided paying federal income taxes for as many as 18 years.

"Americans need to worry about whether Donald Trump will be watching out for America's bottom line or his own bottom line," Kaine said.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence, running alongside Trump, fired back that Clinton is running "an insult-driven campaign," made America less secure during her time as secretary of state, and has proved to be unworthy of the public trust.

"There's a reason why people question the trustworthiness of Hillary Clinton," Pence said, "and that's because they're paying attention."

Kaine, from Virginia, and Pence, from Indiana, are more conventional political figures than those atop their tickets. Both are largely seen as affable, mild-mannered, and plain. They sat next to each other at tables during the event.

But their debate quickly took a belligerent turn.

While near the end of the night the two men engaged in a thoughtful exchange about their religious faiths but divergent views on abortion, most of the event was marked by bickering.

"The people at home cannot understand either one of you when you talk over each other," moderator Elaine Quijano said early on.

Kaine, talking excitedly, repeatedly interrupted Pence to cut off his rival's answers and reel off Trump quotes that he said showed that the Republican is unfit for office.

At one point, as Pence solemnly described being at the U.S. Capitol on 9/11, Kaine interjected, "I was in Virginia," where the Pentagon is.

At another moment, after a lengthy Kaine attack, Pence deadpanned, "Did you work on that one a long time?"

Pence, soft-spoken and measured, defended the suggestion that Trump may have gone years without paying federal income taxes. He described Trump as an entrepreneur who "faced some pretty tough times."

"We have a tax code that is actually designed to encourage entrepreneurship," Pence said. "He used the tax code just the way it's supposed to be used."

Kaine shot back that not paying taxes amounts to not paying for teachers, the military, and veterans.

The debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., came as the Trump campaign tried to turn the page from a disastrous stretch that began with the first presidential debate, Sept. 26. Trump's oft-rambling performance gave way to his attack on a Hispanic beauty queen, an early-morning Twitter storm, and a damaging revelation in the New York Times that he may have used a nearly $1 billion business loss in 1995 to avoid up to 18 years of federal income taxes.

Polls since have showed Clinton increasing her lead, including in Pennsylvania.

Republicans hoped that the steady Pence could stop the bleeding.

Pence tried to do that by sidestepping, ignoring, or contradicting some of Trump's most controversial comments - accusing Kaine of hurling insults when the Democrat quoted Trump.

Though Trump, for example, has praised Vladimir Putin, Pence called the Russian president a "small and bullying leader."

Kaine said Pence refused to defend his running mate's controversial views, including Trump's calls to ban Muslim immigrants, and deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and his insults toward Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and women, whom he has called slobs or pigs.

"He is asking everyone to vote for someone he cannot defend," Kaine said.

Pence fired back that Clinton had insulted Trump backers by calling many "deplorables" - though Kaine noted she quickly apologized.

"You will look in vain for Donald Trump ever taking responsibility," Kaine said.

Pence also delivered a focused attack on Clinton, blaming her tenure as secretary of state for the crisis in Syria and Russia's rising influence, and questioning her dealings with the Clinton Foundation and her handling of her private email server at the State Department.

He accused her and Kaine of favoring more economic policy and regulations that would raise taxes, stifle job creation, and continue a "war on coal." As families struggle, he said, Clinton and Kaine "want more of the same."

Kaine said their policies would lift working Americans, by helping pay for college and raising the minimum wage.

"Do you want a 'you're hired' president in Hillary Clinton? Or do you want a 'you're fired' president in Donald Trump?" Kaine asked. "I think that's not such a hard choice."

Both vice presidential candidates will quickly turn their attentions to Pennsylvania, which has emerged as a pivotal state in the race.

Kaine scheduled stops in Philadelphia on Wednesday and Pittsburgh on Thursday, while Pence was slated to visit Grantville on Wednesday and Gettysburg on Thursday.

The event Tuesday was the only debate featuring the vice presidential candidates.

@JonathanTamari