Image Source : REUTERS (FILE) US President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in their first presidential debate in 2020.

Washington: The race for the White House has begun to heat up once again as US President Joe Biden will take on his predecessor and Republican rival Donald Trump in the first presidential debate for the November elections on Thursday (June 27). This is the first of the two televised face-offs which will be key in their tight rematch to win the White House.

Biden, 81, and Trump, 78 are the oldest candidates to compete for the presidential elections in the history of the United States and their age will be a crucial factor in their debates, along with high grocery prices, an immigrant crisis on the US-Mexico border and the Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine wars. 

The first debate will air at 9 pm ET on Thursday (6:30 am IST on Friday) on CNN and will be broadcast from an Atlanta studio without a live audience. This is also the earliest presidential debate in modern US history four months before the elections on November 5. The second presidential debate is scheduled to take place on US news channel ABC on September 10.

What to know about the first debate?

The first presidential debate between Biden and Trump will be moderated by CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Only Biden and Trump were able to meet CNN’s conditions for participating in the first debate, as they appeared on enough state ballots to potentially win the presidency or received at least 15 per cent in four separate national polls of registered voters. Independent candidate Robert F Kennedy Jr did not make the cut.

In the 90-minute debate, candidates will appear at a uniform podium and will be provided with a pen, paper and a bottle of water. Microphones will be muted throughout the debate except for the candidate whose turn it is to speak and moderates will use all tools at their disposal to enforce timing and a civilised discussion, CNN said, as the debate can get very nasty between the duo.

Biden will be on the podium on the right side of viewers’ screens, and Trump will get the last word after a coin toss. Campaign staff may not interact with candidates during the two commercial breaks, and there will be no studio audience. The debates draw tens of millions of viewers, but the rules have been changed this time as strategists say there are risks for both candidates, who are locked in a tight race and share low enthusiasm from voters.

What will Biden and Trump discuss?

Trump and his aides see Biden as prone to verbal slip-ups that could amplify voter concerns about the president’s age. Biden, who will be 82 after the elections in November, has sparked widespread concerns about his declining mental acuity following a series of gaffes where he mixes up names of world leaders and countries or is seen in awkward moments where he appears frozen. Polls show that mental fitness is a major concern for voters, who are more concerned about Biden.

On the other hand, Biden’s campaign think debates could hurt Trump by exposing his volatility and sometimes changing positions on issues, such as abortion. Trump has also attracted criticism for his provocative statements such as encouraging Russia to attack NATO-allied countries. Biden is also expected to highlight Trump’s role in the US Capitol attack on January 6, 2021, and his recent conviction in the hush money case, although Trump could counter with the legal battles of his son Hunter Biden.

The Biden campaign is expected to bring California Governor Gavin Newsom to the debate on Thursday, although it has not made any official announcements. Trump’s campaign is hosting a watch party in Atlanta, with rumored contenders to be Republican vice presidential running mate – North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, US Senators Marco Rubio and JD Vance, and others listed as “special guests.”

Traditionally, there are three presidential debates, however no third Trump-Biden matchup has been announced yet. Additionally, Vice President Kamala Harris accepted a CBS News invitation for a vice presidential debate on either July 23 or August 13, according to a campaign spokesperson.

What happened last time?

The presidential debate in 2020 between then-President Trump and Biden devolved into a chaotic shouting match. At one point, Biden was repeatedly interrupted by Trump, and said, “Will you shut up, man?” after reaching his breaking point. Another memorable moment was when Trump was unable to condemn white supremacist and militia groups, infamously saying, “Proud Boys (far-right group), stand back and stand by.”

For the second debate, moderators said they would mute each candidate’s microphone to allow the other to speak without interruption for the first two minutes of each debate segment. But the candidates behaved more civilly and the mute button was not a major factor. A third debate was canceled after Trump tested positive for COVID-19 and spent three days in a hospital. He declined to participate in a virtual event.

Biden vs Trump: Who is ahead in polls?

According to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, US voters see Trump as the better candidate for the economy but prefer Biden’s approach to preserving democracy. Biden’s approval rating, measured across all respondents in the poll, rose marginally to 37 per cent from 36 per cent in May when it tied for the lowest reading of his presidency. 

On the other hand, registered voters picked Trump 43 per cent to 37 per cent on the economy. Primary concerns lie in the fast-rising consumer prices, concerns over Biden’s age and disapproval within his party over his support to Israel in the war against Hamas. The Republican also had a more significant edge – 44 per cent to 31 per cent – on immigration, owing to the migrant influx at the border with Mexico.

Trump was also favoured by voters 40 per cent to 35 per cent on foreign conflicts and terrorism. However, Biden had the edge over Trump in responding to political extremism and threats to democracy, with registered voters picking the Democrat over Trump by 39 per cent to 33 per cent. Biden also had an edge over Trump on healthcare policy – 40 per cent to 29 per cent.

Previous Reuters/Ipsos polls have shown Biden and Trump neck-and-neck in the presidential race, though a number of polls in battleground states have shown Trump ahead in recent months.

(with inputs from Reuters)

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