Republican incumbent President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are all set to share the stage for the first time on Tuesday night when they will be going head-to-head in the first of the three presidential debates.
Dubbed as the "Super Bowl of American Democracy", Trump, 74, and Biden, 77, would respond to questions on their track record, the Supreme Court, economy, race and violence in cities and integrity of the elections at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio -- a key battleground state.
Popular Fox news anchor Chris Wallace would moderate the first debate, which would start at 9 pm EST (6:30 am IST). Steve Scully from C-SPAN Networks and Kristen Welker from NBC News would moderate the other two presidential debates on October 15 in Miami (Florida) and October 22 in Nashville (Tennessee), respectively.
Vice President Mike Pence, 61, and Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris, 55, will participate in the only vice-presidential debate, to be hosted by USA Today journalist Susan Page, in Salt Lake City in Utah on October 7. All the four debates are being organised by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). The debates would be of 90 minutes duration. In August, the CPD had turned down a request of the Trump campaign for a presidential debate in early September.
Trump told reporters on Sunday that former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani were helping him prepare for the debates. The two were seated in the press briefing room along with the White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany during the news conference by the president.
Earlier in the day, Trump in a tweet demanded that Biden undergo a drug test before the debate. I will be strongly demanding a Drug Test of Sleepy Joe Biden prior to, or after, the Debate on Tuesday night. Naturally, I will agree to take one also. His Debate performances have been record setting UNEVEN, to put it mildly. Only drugs could have caused this discrepancy???" he tweeted.
Responding to a question at the news conference, Trump reiterated his demand that Biden should go for a drug test before the debate. He said he will also do the same. "I'm willing to take a drug test. I think he should too because he's had a very uneven...You know, what I'm saying. If you look at some of those debates, I said there's no way he could continue. He can't continue," Trump said.
Biden is yet to respond to the president's tweet. Meanwhile, ahead of the debates, over 70 members of the US Congress wrote to the CPD to include climate change as one of the topics.
The first ever general elections presidential debates were held on September 26, 1960 at the CBS studios in Chicago between the then-senator John F Kennedy and then-vice president Richard Nixon. The debate that was televised changed the nature of American politics and presidential elections for all times to come.
Kennedy and Nixon debated four times that year. Kennedy went on to win the 1960 elections. In 1987, the non-partisan and non-profit CPD was established to "ensure for the benefit of the American electorate the general election debates between or among the leading candidates for the officers of president and vice president of the United States or a permanent part of the electoral process"
The CPD does not receive any funding from the government or any political party or political action party committee or candidate. It has sponsored and produced all general election presidential debates since 1988. Frank Fahrenkopf, Co-Chair of the CPD, told reporters at the National Press Club on Sunday that all precautions have been taken in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
"There's no clapping, there's no whistling and so forth, he said. Between 50 and 150 million people are expected to watch the televised debates. According to Kenneth Wollack, co-chair of CPD, as important as the presidential debate has been in the US, debates have even a greater impact overseas -- in new and emerging democracies, in particularly, in countries in post-conflict political environments.
Debates have played a very important role in the transition process in these countries for three reasons, Wollack said.
Number one, it has levelled the playing field in countries where there has been a dominant political party. Secondly, it helps focus the candidates on a policy, public policy issues rather than personalities. And three, it has lowered the campaign rhetoric often at political rallies because citizens see the two or more major candidates vying for office shaking hands, Wollack said.
The Commission, in cooperation with the National Democratic Institute, have helped organise more than 400 debates in 45 countries around the world. As a result of that effort, there is now a coalition of debate organisers from 38 countries called "Debates International" that help one other to organise debates, he said.