After months of anticipation President Donald Trump will face off in the first presidential debate against his Democratic rival Joe Biden at 2pm today (NZT).
It comes after weeks of negative revelations and poor poll numbers for the Republican Trump – all topped off by bombshell claims around his tax returns.
Biden will step onto the Cleveland stage holding leads in the polls — significant in the national surveys, closer in the battleground states — but facing questions about his turn in the spotlight, particularly considering Trump’s withering attacks.
And Trump, with only 35 days to change the course of the race, will have arguably his best chance to try to reframe the campaign as a choice election and not a referendum over his handling of a virus that has killed more people in America than any other nation.
Polls suggest fewer undecided voters remain than at this point in the 2016 campaign. And several high-profile debates in past elections that were thought to be game-changing moments at the time ultimately had little lasting effect.
Four years ago, Democrat Hillary Clinton was widely seen as besting Trump in their three debates, but she lost in November. In 2012, Mitt Romney crushed Barack Obama in their first meeting only to falter in the rematches.
The president spent Tuesday morning (local time) in informal preparations for the first debate with Joe Biden. A longer, more formal preparation session was set for the afternoon once he arrives in Cleveland.
Trump’s prep team includes former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway, campaign communications strategist Jason Miller, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Jared Kushner, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and communications director Alyssa Farah. Some other advisers like Dan Scavino and Hope Hicks have also been involved.
While Trump is itching to go on the offence against Biden, some aides have encouraged him to adopt a more measured tone -- believing that in many ways the debates are more about Trump vs himself than Biden.
Trump, they argue, should focus more on selling his accomplishments than trying to viciously attack Biden. Some involved with the preparations, though, have encouraged Trump’s more aggressive ‘counterpunching’ side.