Fasten your seatbelts.
Moderators have made unprecedented efforts to try and ensure Thursday night’s final debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden goes smoothly.
There's reason to worry: The chaotic first face-off saw a combative Trump repeatedly interrupt everyone else on stage, as Biden told him to "shut up" — and then Trump backed out of the second debate because of a format change when he got sick with the novel coronavirus. The candidates attended dueling town halls instead.
It won't be clear how Thursday's debate went (and whether it was just as volatile as the previous one) until it's over.
What is clear is the debate is likely the last chance either Biden or Trump have to reach this many voters at once, with an expected audience in the tens of millions.
In the campaign's final days, Trump, 74, is trailing Biden, 77, by double digits in most national polls and he is behind in most battleground state polls by smaller but equally enduring margins.
While Biden has relentlessly pressed a message about Trump's much scrutinized handling of the pandemic and highlighted Trump's inflammatory and divisive style, the president has called Biden a Trojan horse for more left-wing policies and said he is too weak to run the White House.
More recently, Trump seized on disputed reporting in The New York Post about Biden's son Hunter's business dealings, arguing it shows a pattern of criminality in the Biden family.
(The former vice president has dismissed the reports, which were partially the work of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, as a "smear campaign.")
All of that may come up on Thursday night.
To limit any commotion, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced this week it would mute the candidates’ microphones while the other is giving their initial answers in each debate segment. Biden and Trump will not be muted during the subsequent question-and-answer portion.
To limit the spread of the coronavirus, there will also be plexiglass separating the nominees.
Here's how to watch the debate and what to know.
When the Debate Starts and How to Watch
The debate begins at 9 p.m. ET and will take place at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.
It will last 90 minutes, without commercial interruption.
The debate will air across all major networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, as well as CNN and Fox News.
Many news outlets will also stream the debate on YouTube, as will C-SPAN.
Who Is Moderating?
NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker will be moderating.
The 44-year-old White House reporter also hosts Today on weekends, alongside fellow NBC correspondent Peter Alexander.
Trump — often with his sights set on criticizing his media coverage — has already zeroed in on attacking Welker’s credibility, claiming at a recent rally she is a “radical Democrat” and tweeting his opinion that “she’s always been terrible & unfair.”
Speaking with PEOPLE this year, Welker said that despite Trump’s repeated lashing out at reporters, she always aims to cover the Trump administration the same way she would on any other president, by “letting ourselves observe.”
Still, Welker said then, “Every minute of everything that we're covering is history-making and, frankly, remarkable.”
Trump and his campaign have taken a disdainful approach toward the debates, criticizing how Fox News' Chris Wallace moderated the first, knocking C-SPAN's Steve Scully who had been set to moderate the second (and who was suspended by the network over a Twitter imbroglio) and complaining about some of the chosen topics.
Trump has a history of fighting with moderators and journalists, particularly female journalists, going back to his 2016 campaign.
What Are the Topics?
Welker will ask both candidates about the coronavirus disease COVID-19, American families, race, climate change, national security and leadership.
Each topic will be broken up into six separate 15-minute segments.
What Should You Watch For?
Trump, trailing the Democratic nominee in national polling and in must-win swing states, is expected to press for a contrast with Biden on stage that could shake up the race that has proven stubborn to his pivots so far, with polls consistently showing most voters have made up their minds.
Indeed, the election is in many ways already well underway: CNN reports that about 40 million Americans have cast their ballot either through early or mail and absentee voting.
Biden will look to lay out his final argument against the incumbent without damaging his lead or fueling the Trump narrative that he is too enfeebled and too radical to be elected.
Meanwhile the Trump campaign has strongly signaled the president will attack Biden on the reporting about Hunter's past business deals and personal trouble, including a history of addiction.
“If the media won’t ask Joe Biden these questions, the president will, and there will be no escape for Biden,” Trump's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, said this week.
With the memory of the first debate late last month, many viewers my wonder if Trump will arrive in Nashville equally as disruptive.
Biden, on the other hand, will likely aim to highlight Trump’s controversial leadership, including his downplaying of COVID-19.
“Trump’s closing message in the final days of the 2020 race is to publicly mock Joe Biden for trusting science,” the Biden campaign told the Associated Press this week. “Trump is mocking Biden for listening to science. Science. The best tool we have to keep Americans safe, while Trump’s reckless and negligent leadership threatens to put more lives at risk.”
Have questions about how to vote ahead of the Nov. 3 election? Use vote.org to check your state-specific information about registering to vote, voting by mail, early voting, finding your polling place and more. Early and mail voting are already underway across much of the country, while many states also allow voters to register at their polling places on the same day they cast their ballots.
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