Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden will square off for the first time on Tuesday in a pivotal debate that will provide a stark clash of styles and the prospect of a fiery and brutally personal grudge match.
With more than a million Americans already casting early ballots and time running out to change minds or influence the small sliver of undecided voters, the stakes are enormous as the two White House candidates take the stage five weeks before the Nov. 3 election.
The combustible Trump and more low-key Biden will debate an array of urgent political challenges, including a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States and thrown millions out of work, a brewing battle over Amy Coney Barrett’s U.S. Supreme Court nomination, and continued protests across the country for racial justice.
The encounter could be crucial for Biden, giving him a chance to prove he is a steady hand who is capable of stepping into the Oval Office and ending the tumult of Trump’s first term, strategists said.
About 9% of likely voters are not currently backing either major-party candidate, which is less than half of the number who were not committed to one of the top contenders in September 2016, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.
“Voters have made up their mind about Donald Trump. They still aren’t quite sure what to make of Joe Biden,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant, an aide to Senator Marco Rubio during his 2016 presidential primary bid against Trump.
“If Biden goes in and demonstrates he is not scary to independents and is capable of doing the job, he will help himself significantly,” he said.