The US city of Atlanta in Georgia is hosting the first debate between President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump as they battle for the White House in November. It will be the first of at least two debates before the November 5 election. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Joe Biden and Donald Trump square off in a crucial US presidential debate that carries enormous stakes for both candidates as they battle for the approval of undecided voters and any slim advantage in their neck-and-neck race for the White House.

Millions of Americans will tune in to the highly anticipated clash that fires the starting gun on what promises to be a bruising summer of campaigning in a deeply polarized and tense United States still scarred by the chaos and violence that accompanied the 2020 election.

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It will be the first of at least two debates before the November 5 election.

What time is the debate?

The debate begins at 21:00 EST Thursday (01:00 GMT Friday, 5am UAE).

The debate will take place at CNN’s headquarters.

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Where else can I watch?

The CNN network will also allow other platforms to simulcast the debate, and most other major news networks are expected to telecast it. A live stream of the ‘CNN Presidential Debate’ will be also available on USA TODAY via YouTube.

Who are the moderators?

CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will moderate the debate.

The network says it will last 90 minutes and include two commercial breaks.

What are the rules of the debate?

The candidates will face off at CNN’s studios in Atlanta, four years after 73 million viewers tuned in to see the rivals debate in the 2020 election. A record 84 million watched Trump’s first debate in 2016 against Hillary Clinton.

A coin flip determined that Biden will stand on the podium to television viewers’ right, while Trump will give his closing statement after Biden, according to CNN.

Each candidate will be given a pen, a pad of paper and a bottle of water — but no props or pre-written notes are allowed on stage.

Why will microphones be muted this time?

Unlike previous debates, the candidates will have their microphones muted except for when it is their turn to speak.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump faced off against each other on a stage twice before their 2020 contest.

Image Credit: AFP

Those two debates were ugly and heated affairs widely panned by viewers.

Also, there will also be no studio audience.

Both candidates will stand and Biden’s campaign has denied that he requested a seat for the event.

What’s the unique feature of this debate?

This is the earliest televised US general election debate since 1960.

It is also the first one since the late 1980s to not be organised by its traditional host, the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).

What is expected at the debate?

To coincide with the debate, the Biden campaign blitzed a series of fresh attack ads that labelled Trump a convicted criminal “looking out for himself,” while Trump’s team countered with TV spots accusing the Democrat of mismanaging the economy and encouraging illegal immigration.

Trump enjoys a slight advantage in the all-important swing states but the overall polling looks extremely close in an election likely to be decided by a few photo finishes in a handful of battlegrounds.

What do the latest polls show?

The latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Trump edging ahead of Biden nationally, 49 per cent to 45 per cent.

Biden faces the most concern about his mental sharpness, with voters much more likely to bring up his age than Trump’s, despite the Republican being just three years younger.

Both have faltered and appeared muddled during public events, although Trump in particular has raised eyebrows over his rambling and occasionally bizarre campaign speeches.

Trump is also engulfed in controversy over his inflammatory rhetoric and a glut of criminal cases he faces, as well as fears that he would weaponise the presidency to settle personal scores.

Biden spent the week off the radar at the mountainside retreat of Camp David near Washington, preparing with mock debates.

The Trump campaign has repeatedly characterised Biden as feeble and incompetent, but changed tack in recent days following warnings that setting low expectations for the Democratic president would only help him.

What should you watch out for?

They are the two oldest candidates ever to run for US president. One accuses his rival of being unhinged and a danger to democracy, while the other accuses his opponent of being senile and corrupt.

Biden and Trump are essentially tied in national opinion polls with fewer than five months until the November 5 election.

But many voters remain undecided, raising the stakes of a debate that will be viewed more for possible moments of drama than for policy discussions between the Democratic president and his Republican challenger.

Both candidates may face questions about their fitness to serve in ways previous presidential hopefuls have not.

What’s on voters’ mind?

Trump claims Biden is physically and mentally unfit for office, while Biden has called his predecessor “unhinged” and a danger to democratic norms.

Democrats point to Trump’s role in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by his supporters, his other efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his conviction on May 30 on 34 felony counts for his involvement in a hush money scheme to keep an alleged sexual encounter with a porn star from the public.

Image Credit: AFP

Biden’s mental and physical strength has been the subject of scrutiny and speculation as he seeks a second four-year term.

Critics say he is slowing down and point to a series of verbal slip-ups. Allies maintain he is as sharp as ever.

Trump has regularly mocked Biden at rallies, suggesting he’s not up to the job.

The president’s age is also on most voters’ minds, including Democrats, and many viewers will be on alert for any sign that Biden - or Trump - is not up to the task.

Trump has not faced the same questions about his stamina but has raised eyebrows with his tendency to go off on extended tangents and occasionally mixing up names and misidentifying Biden as former President Barack Obama.

What else to look for?

Both candidates are known for their tempers and impatience. They are used to commanding the stage and getting their way.

Both have been president and likely see little reason to yield to the other. Biden rattled Trump during their first debate in the 2020 race, leading Trump into what was viewed as a poor performance as the Republican repeatedly interrupted and bickered with the moderator. Biden went on to beat Trump handily.

Trump may try to get under Biden’s skin by mentioning the legal problems of the president’s son, Hunter, who was convicted of lying about his drug use to illegally buy a gun.

Trump has to be careful, too, not to turn off moderate voters with a bullying approach.

What’s the key to debate success?

As a former reality TV star, Trump has deep experience in studio settings while Biden has delivered speeches from the White House without an audience.

A key to debate success may be which candidate makes the format work best by connecting viscerally with viewers at home.

Trump will get the final word in the debate, CNN said last week. The Biden campaign won a coin toss to determine podium placement and the order of closing statements, and chose to have Biden on the right side of viewers’ screens during the debate.

The Trump campaign then opted to have Trump deliver the last closing statement.

When is the second debate?

A second debate is scheduled for September and will air on ABC.