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Isn’t this a bit early?

With the U.S. election set for Nov. 5, Thursday’s debate is the earliest in modern U.S. history — a timing made possible, in part, because it’s so clear so early who the presumptive nominees are.

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Where is it being held?

The CNN-hosted presidential debate will take place in Atlanta on Thursday evening. (Megan Varner/Reuters)

 At the CNN studios in Atlanta.

What’s the format?

CNN has said the debate will last 90 minutes and will be held without an audience.

The participants’ microphones will be muted when they are not slated to be talking.

Who’s moderating?

Veteran journalists Dana Bash and Jake Tapper, both of whom work for CNN.

CNN anchors Jake Tapper (left) and Dana Bash (right) are seen speaking to audience members ahead of a debate of Republican presidential contenders held in Des Moines, Iowa, in January. Trump did not participate in that event.
CNN anchors Jake Tapper (left) and Dana Bash (right) are seen speaking to audience members ahead of a debate of Republican presidential contenders held in Des Moines, Iowa, in January. Trump did not participate in that event. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

The same duo have moderated debates together in the past, including a January event in Des Moines, Iowa, between then-Republican presidential contenders Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. (Trump didn’t participate.)

Days ahead of this week’s debate, Trump-allied voices are accusing Bash and Tapper of bias against the former president — though the network has defended the moderators.

Both Tapper and Bash criticized a September 2020 presidential debate between Biden and Trump, as were other outlets and journalists in the U.S. and elsewhere, for its chaotic and bitter character and then-incumbent Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists. Bash’s memorable description of the debate, after the fact, drew attention.

It wasn’t the first time the two were critical of Trump.

He and his campaign are nonetheless putting a focus on these two journalists as the debate draws nearer.

At a rally in Wisconsin earlier this month, Trump made reference to facing off against “three people” in the coming debate, apparently including the CNN moderators in his count.

What’s at stake for Biden?

Thursday’s debate gives Biden a chance to make his case for re-election.

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U.S. President Joe Biden is seen waving shortly before boarding Air Force One in Delaware.
Biden is seen offering a wave, before boarding Air Force One in Delaware last week. The 81-year-old Democrat incumbent is making his case for re-election. Biden has faced questions about his age throughout his presidency and Thursday’s debate will give the president a chance to prove his doubters wrong. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

At age 81, Biden is already the oldest president in U.S. history. Another full term in office would see him serving in that role into his mid-80s.

His age has been a focus of media attention throughout his presidential term to date. It has also been at the centre of attacks from Trump and some Republicans. During the debate, Biden will be able to show his leadership capabilities on live TV.

Biden and 78-year-old Trump — who’s faced his own questions about his mental fitness —  are together the two oldest nominees to seek the Oval Office. Thursday’s debate could be relevant for those with concerns about the candidates’ ages.

“It’s an incredible test of their cognitive competence,” Patrick Stewart, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, told Reuters. “This is our chance to see how much they’ve declined, or if they’ve declined.”

But being the sitting president, Biden may expect to face questions on hot-button issues the country is facing right now.

Brian Hughes, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, told Reuters that inflation, immigration and “a world on fire” with major wars in Ukraine and Gaza are key issues the campaign wants to make Biden speak to.

What about for Trump?

Former U.S. president Donald Trump is seen greeting supporters at a sandwich shop in Philadelphia last weekend.
Trump is seen greeting supporters at a sandwich shop in Philadelphia last weekend. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Trump has been navigating legal challenges since leaving office, including being convicted in a hush-money trial. And he also faces three other trials — including his alleged mishandling of classified documents, and alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election results — to come.

During the debate, Trump may speak to voters about these cases. He could also get confronted about them.

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Yet aside from any issues raised during the debate, Trump will have to perform on a stage he has not occupied in some time, having skipped such face-offs against Republican rivals (like the Iowa debate).

Trump signalled last summer that he would not take part in the debates held during the Republican primaries, as voters were familiar with him personally and with his record.

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Alan Schroeder, a professor emeritus of journalism at Northeastern University, sees some risk for Trump, amid a looser debate format.

“He’s done so many TV events of different types that he sort of thinks he can wing it,” Schroeder, who is an expert on presidential debates, told Reuters.

“But debating is a very specific thing. It doesn’t really pay to just show up.”



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