Donald Trump and Joe Biden were due to hold a high-stakes debate yesterday that may be the final opportunity for the president – trailing in the polls – to present his case for re-election to a primetime American television audience of millions.
Trump, 74, was expected to use the second and last debate to renew his attacks on the past business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter.
Biden, 77, was expected to focus on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic which has left more than 222,000 people dead in the United States and millions unemployed.
With the election just 12 days away, the debate was seen as perhaps Trump’s last and best chance to make up ground on Biden before the November 3 vote.
More than 45mn Americans have already cast their ballots, according to a University of Florida tally, and the candidates will be targeting any remaining undecided voters.
“This is an important last opportunity for the candidates to talk to people who haven’t voted,” said Amy Dacey, executive director of the Sine Institute of Policy and Politics at American University. “This is probably one of the largest audiences they’ll reach right before the election.”
“I think the Trump team must be looking at this as a must to reach people and convince people,” said Dacey, a former chief executive of the Democratic National Committee.
Kyle Kondik, managing director of the political newsletter Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Centre for Politics, said the debate is the final major event on the road to the election.
“Donald Trump went into the conventions trailing, and he is still trailing,” Kondik said. “The debate represents one of the last opportunities to change the trajectory of the race.
“The stakes are high for both candidates though – Biden wants to keep the race just where it is, and he doesn’t want to provide any late fuel to the Trump campaign.”
Trump trails Biden by 7.7 points in a RealClearPolitics average of national polls and is behind in most of the key battleground states crucial to victory.
The 90-minute debate was to be held at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and was scheduled to start at 9pm Eastern Time (4am Qatar time).
It will be televised by all the major broadcast networks, cable news channels and live-streamed on various platforms, including YouTube.
The first debate on September 29 was a chaotic affair with constant interruptions and name-calling and measures have been put in place this time to try to ensure order.
The candidates’ microphones, for example, will be cut off while the other one answers questions from the moderator.
A second debate planned for October 15 was cancelled after Trump came down with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and declined to take part in a virtual debate.
As a health precaution, plexiglass barriers have been erected this time alongside the lecterns where the two candidates will stand.
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