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Showtime: Everything you need to know about the upcoming presidential debates

Trump and Biden will face off in three separate TV debates.
Sep 19th 2020, 9:30 AM 21,381 42

donald-trump-falls-behind-in-the-uscl-a-times-poll-one-of-his-favorites Donald Trump and and Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate four years ago. Source: PA Images

THE FIRST DEBATE of the US presidential election will be held in ten day’s time. 

The TV face-off between Donald Trump and Joe Biden will be followed by two more debates over the subsequent three weeks, with a vice-presidential debate squeezed in there too.  

The packed schedule is part of the final stages of the race for the White House and could potentially be decisive in the abnormal circumstances of the Covid-19 affected campaign. 

And on the theme of different circumstances, this year’s debates are likely to be different too. For example, each debate will have a single moderator – in other years there have been several. 

So what do we know so far about the upcoming debates? 

When and where are they on?

The first debate between Trump and Biden will take place on Tuesday week 29 September in Cleveland.

The second debate is two weeks later on Thursday 15 October in Miami, the third and final debate on Thursday 22 October in Nashville.

The vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris is sandwiched between the first two presidential debates on 7 October in Salt Lake City. 

A note for anyone planning to watch them live, all of the debates are scheduled to take from 9-10.30 pm eastern time in the US, so that means it’ll be 2-3.30 am here in Ireland. 

The 90-minute runtime has no ad break, so it’s a significant test of mental endurance for all involved.  

Who is hosting the debates?

The all-important debate moderators are chosen by the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which has been in charge of organising the debates since 1987. 

There’s just one moderator at each debate due to Covid-19 concerns and they’ve selected the following: Chris Wallace of Fox News for debate #1, Steve Scully of C-Span for debate #2 and Kristen Welker of NBC News for debate #3. 

Susan Page of USA Today is moderating the vice presidential debate, ensuring a gender-balanced split among the moderators. 

While the CPD chooses the moderators, it is the moderators themselves who choose the topics to be discussed, with members of the public posing questions in one of the debates.

With the first debate only just over a week away, there’ll be a lot of pressure on Wallace to set the tone and standard of the weeks to follow. 

While Fox News is regularly criticised for its output, Wallace has been known for his careful questioning of Trump in recent years and his hosting of the final debate in 2016. 

In July, Wallace hosted a testy interview with Trump during which the president took issue with the journalist’s questioning about the Covid-19 pandemic. 

What format will the debates have? 

The first and third presidential debates will have the same format, as will the vice presidential debate. 

They will have will be six segments of 15 minutes each on topics that will be selected by the moderator and announced at least one week in advance. 

When the moderator asks a question, each candidate will have two minutes to answer before they then have a chance to respond to one another. 

The second debate in Miami will be different because it will be a “town hall meeting” style in which local voters can ask questions of the candidates. 

Aside from that, the format is the same where both candidates answer for two minutes before interacting with one another.

The moderator can intervene if necessary and also ask to follow up questions.  

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Source: CNN/YouTube

CPD says the members of the public who ask questions are “uncommitted voters” who are selected by analytics company Gallup. 

This format is the same as what was adopted four years ago when undecided voter Ken Bone became the internet’s unexpected star of the debate. 

Warm-ups

Ahead of the first debate, both candidates have been upping their face-to-face TV time in preparation for the showdown. 

On Tuesday, Trump participated in a televised town hall meeting with uncommitted voters, hosted by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. 

Taped at the National Constitution Centre in Philadelphia, it featured Trump taking questions from an audience of just 21 voters in compliance with state and local coronavirus regulations.

It marked Trump’s first time facing direct questions from voters in months, and an opportunity for the Republican to test-drive his message before the critical debates.

Trump has been unusually quiet about his preparations for the first debate. On Tuesday, he told Fox News he believes his day job is the best practice for his three scheduled showdowns with Biden.

“Well, I sort of prepare every day by just doing what I’m doing,” Trump said

Biden had his own CNN town hall event on Thursday during which he targeted Trump’s handling of the pandemic, calling it “criminal”. 

The event was in front of a drive-in crown outside Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania and marked the first time that Biden had faced live, unscripted questions from voters since winning the nomination. 

As for debate strategy, Biden has promised to be a “fact-checker on the stage” with Trump but has said he does not want to get drawn into a “brawl” with the Republican.

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Rónán Duffy

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