US election debates schedule: What time are Donald Trump and Joe Biden going head-to-head?

US election debates schedule: What time are Donald Trump and Joe Biden going head-to-head?

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Why the presidential debates could play a pivotal role in the US 2020 election – and everything else we know

Donald Trump and Joe Biden will face each other in the next few weeks 

Donald Trump and Joe Biden will go head-to-head in three debates in the coming weeks. The first debate kicks off tomorrow.

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed how the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns will be fought this year, meaning the debates have taken on even more significance than in previous years.

The three televised debates are likely to be the only times the two presidential candidates appear alongside each other before the US election day on November 3 and the encounters are expected to produce some of the top political moments of this campaign season. 

There is also one debate scheduled for the two parties’ vice-presidential candidates, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris.

When, where and what time are the debates?

September 29, Ohio

The first presidential debate between Mr Trump and Mr Biden is scheduled for September 29, starting at 9pm ET (2am in the UK). 

It is being held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio and will be moderated by Chris Wallace, an anchor for Fox News.

The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no advert breaks. The debate will be split into 15-minute segments which focus on six different topics chosen by Mr Wallace and announced at least a week before the debate. 

October 7, Utah

Kamala Harris

The sole vice-presidential debate, between Democratic senator Kamala Harris and Mr Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, will be in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 7.

The 90-minute debate will be moderated by Susan Page from the newspaper USA Today, and divided into 10-minute segments.

October 15, Florida

The second debate between the two presidential candidates will be hosted by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami on October 15 at 9pm ET (2am in the UK).

The 90-minute debate will be moderated by Steve Scully from the public service network C-SPAN and will take the form of a town hall event, with Miami residents in the audience posing their own questions to the two candidates. 

The candidates will be given two minutes to answer each question and the moderator will be allowed an additional minute to enable follow ups. The members of the audience called on to ask questions will be uncommitted voters chosen by an analytics firm, Gallup.

October 22, Tennessee

The final presidential debate will be at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee on October 22 at 9pm ET (2am UK). 

The 90-minute event, moderated by NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker, will also be divided into 15-minute segments on prepared topics. 

Each debate will be streamed by all major US networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. These networks will have it available to stream online, as well as via apps on Amazon Fire, Android, Roku, and Apple TV services.

Other news outlets, such as the Washington Post, will be streaming the first debate live from their YouTube channels. 

What do we know about the moderators?

The key details for the debates, as well as who moderates them, are decided by the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates. 

Moderators can play an outsized role in how the candidates fare because they choose the questions, can push back on vague responses and dictate how many interruptions they allow.

Unlike in previous years, there is only one moderator in each debate as a way to limit the number of people on stage during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Trump campaign outlined its preferred moderators, including a number of Fox News hosts and conservative commentators, in a list that Rudy Giuliani sent to the commission, but none of the suggestions were selected.

The initial debate will be overseen by Chris Wallace, a host from Mr Trump’s favourite network Fox News, but one of his toughest questioners at the network. Mr Wallace, a registered Democrat, gave the president an intensive grilling during a recent interview, from which Mr Trump did not come off well.

The Fox News anchor also moderated a debate between Mr Trump and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, and earned praised from both sides of the political spectrum for his rigorous questioning of both candidates.

In a response to the selection of Mr Wallace, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said: “These are not the moderators we would have recommended if the campaign had been allowed to have any input.”

Mr Trump may, however, be pleased that none of the three moderators will be from CNN, unlike in 2016.

The second debate will be moderated by a journalist from the public service network C-SPAN, and the third by one from NBC. The single vice-presidential debate will be moderated by a USA Today newspaper journalist. How important the moderators can be has been shown repeatedly over the years. Their actions can help decide an election.

What else do we know about the debates?

With Mr Trump unable to hold his usual large campaign rallies, the debates offer his best shot at narrowing Mr Biden’s poll lead, and the president intends to use the TV appearances to land as many blows as possible.

 Mr Trump has already been preparing for the debates for some time, with Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor reportedly playing the role of Mr Biden during his practice sessions. With Mr Biden avoiding rigorous interviews the debates may prove to be the most arduous test he faces throughout the campaign.

Mr Trump is confident he can perform well against Mr Biden, who made several verbal slip-ups during the Democratic primary debates, and the president pushed for an additional debate to be added to the schedule, but the commission rejected the proposal.

We do not yet know what the audience will look like for these debates, or indeed whether there will even be one.

The Trump campaign requested that both candidates appear onstage together but the commission has not yet revealed whether the pair will appear on stage together or conduct the debate virtually.

A virtual debate would offer a markedly different experience to the 2016 debates, where Mr Trump dominated the stage, looming over Mrs Clinton as she answered questions. Mrs Clinton described how off-putting she found the tactic in her memoir, saying her “skin crawled”

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