Trump, Biden go head to head

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  • The debate starts at 11am AEST and will run for 90 minutes.
  • Fox anchor Chris Wallace will moderate the debate and choose the debate topics.
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Trump to come out swinging, but can he land a blow?

Jacob Greber

Cleveland, Ohio | Welcome to our live blog for today’s debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden – easily the most anticipated moment of the 2020 election campaign so far.

Unusually, the pressure is on Trump this time around to deliver a devastating blow that can bring him back within striking distance of Biden, who is more than 6 percentage points ahead of the President, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls.

For context, it’s worth noting that Biden’s lead is about double what Hillary Clinton had on the eve of her first debate against Trump four years ago. And we know how that ended.

Which is why most pundits anticipate Trump will come out swinging early and fast during the first half-hour, after which viewer numbers might wane.

Yet even before the action gets under way – at 9pm local time and 11am AEST – both sides are ramping up the mind games.

Trump’s campaign put out a statement before the debate claiming Biden had backed down on whether to allow an independent observer conduct a “pre-debate inspection for electronic earpieces”.

Trump has also spent the last few days suggesting both men be tested for some kind of performance-enhancing drug.

Biden’s camp not only denied the claim, but poured scorn on the whole concept of secret earpieces being used to feed the candidate answers.

“Absolutely ridiculous”, said Symone Sanders, one of Biden’s top advisors.

Biden, himself, a short time ago did a bit of his own trolling.

Jeni’s icecream, I gather, is an Ohio company. And sales are no doubt about to spike.

Another headfake has been a long series of reports from the White House suggesting Trump is shunning the kind of intense debate prep that Biden has engaged in.

He gets enough practice responding to the media, his press secretary said, so will match-fit, in effect.

Which might all be true, but one thing you can be sure of – there’s no way Trump is walking onto that stage half-baked and planning to wing it.

As he showed four years ago, when he rang rings around more than a dozen Republican contenders, and actually literally walked around Hillary Clinton, Trump knows how to command the stage and drive the talking points that dominate the news for days to come.

For Biden the challenge will be to show Americans he has the drive, energy and ability to run the country.

It’s the economy (and the virus): Harris

Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris says Joe Biden will share his vision for tackling the coronavirus and rebuilding the United States’ economy during his debate with Donald Trump.

The Democratic Senator said during a digital fundraiser with artists hours before the debate that “Joe’s goal in the debate is to communicate directly with the American people”.

Ms Harris says America is at a crossroads in more ways than one, from the pandemic and economic recession to a reckoning on racial injustice and climate change. She’s calling Republican efforts to fill a Supreme Court seat before the election a “crisis”.

“And in the midst of all this, a president whose instinct is to always stoke chaos, division, and mistrust,” she said.

Ms Harris is set to debate Vice President Mike Pence next week.

Debates in the time of coronavirus

Jill Colvin, Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Cleveland | Crowds and pageantry are out. COVID-19 tests and masks are in.

Presidential debates are typically some of the most exciting nights of the campaign season, drawing a crowd of thousands of staffers, media and guests.

But this year, as with almost everything else, things are very, very different, with a long list of precautions in place.

Workers prepare the stage ahead of the debate. Bloomberg

Instead of the usual auditorium setting, the debate is being hosted by the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University in a 2,500-square-meter atrium on the clinic’s Health Education Campus. Notre Dame, the original debate host, withdrew because of the pandemic.

The atrium, with its skylighted roof, has been turned into a makeshift debate hall with a stage and red carpeting.

While chairs are mostly placed right next to one another, the rows have been spaced out and signs have been posted on some chairs that read, “Thank you for not sitting here in observance of social distancing.”

That leaves room for about 100 people, all of whom will have been tested for the virus and will be required to wear masks. Seats were set with programs and anti-bacterial wipes.

President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden won’t have to wear masks themselves, though.

Each candidate’s campaign was given 20 tickets to hand out to guests, said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Trump’s guests were to include his wife, Melania, and his four adult children.

Beyond those watching the televised debates from afar, the faceoffs typically draw several thousand people, including guests, sponsors, donors and the national and international media, taking on the feel of a festival.

There’s usually a huge media filing centre and food tents — even a beer garden. And after the debate, supporters of each candidate typically file into the press centre, creating a “spin room” where they post-game the main event.

While there is a media filing centre in Cleveland in a ballroom near the venue, the atmosphere felt far from buzzy Tuesday afternoon (Wednesday AEST), with few reporters in place. And only those wearing grey wristbands indicating they had tested negative for the virus were allowed inside.

Chairs are seen in social distance spacing ahead of the debate. AP

Outside, there were no large demonstrations, just security officials blocking off streets around the building before the candidates’ arrivals and helicopters buzzing overhead.

One man was spotted driving around the venue in a pickup truck that had a papier-mache model of Trump’s head in a box, along with pro-Biden flags and signs that read, “203,000 DEAD” of COVID-19 and “Trump failed us.”

Also spotted: A woman dressed as a doctor and pulling a wagon filled with plastic skeletons.

Debate bingo

The New York Post has come up with a novel way for people to engage with the first presidential debate: a bingo card.

Biden reveals tax, challenges Trump to do same

Jarrett Renshaw, Steve Holland

Hours before his first debate with Donald Trump, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden released his 2019 tax returns and his campaign called on the President to do the same.

Mr Biden took the step two days after The New York Times reported Mr Trump paid just $US750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 – and none in 10 of the previous 15 years – following years of reporting steep losses from business enterprises.

Mr Trump had long sought to keep his personal financial records secret.

Mr Biden’s taxes showed that he and his wife Jill paid more than $US346,000 ($485,000) in federal taxes and other payments for 2019 on an income of nearly $US985,000 before seeking a refund of nearly $US47,000 they said they had overpaid the government.

“This is a historic level of transparency meant to give the American people faith once again that their leaders will look out for them and not their own bottom lines,” Mr Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said on a call with reporters.

“Mr. President, release your tax returns or shut up,” Bedingfield added.

Welcome to the first debate

Democratic hopeful Joe Biden goes into today’s debate with a consistent lead in the polls so today’s event represents one of Donald Trump’s best opportunities to shake-up the race and his first chance to appear in front of millions of Americans on the same stage as Mr Biden.

The format

The debate is being held at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland.

The format for the first debate calls for six 15-minute time segments dedicated to topics announced in advance in order to encourage deep discussion of the leading issues facing the country.

Chris Wallace, moderator of the first 2020 presidential debate, has selected the topics for that debate.

Subject to possible changes, the topics are:

  • The Trump and Biden records
  • The Supreme Court
  • COVID-19
  • The economy
  • Race and violence in our Cities
  • The integrity of the Election

    Topics for the first debate. 

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