- Biden leads in national polls, Trump is gaining.
- Swing states that will decide the election are much closer.
- Debate is 90 minutes in Nashville, Tennessee, moderated by Kristen Welker of NBC.
- Six topic sections, COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security, leadership.
- Each candidate will have two uninterrupted minutes at the start of a new segment.
- Markets unlikely to respond unless unless something unusual happens.
The second and final presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden promises to be a political event of the first magnitude. Mr. Biden leads in national polling by 7.9%, though the race has been tightening over the past two weeks, on October 11 was his margin was 10.3%.
The spread in the swing states that will likely determine the outcome is 4.1%, down from 4.8% on the 11th.
Heading into Nashville, Mr. Biden has been in seclusion for almost four days, making no campaign stops, and, according to his spokesman, preparing for the debate. Mr. Trump has been on the trail at rallies and personal appearances across the country.
There are disputes in plenty between the two candidates and between the campaigns and the media that are sure to make the confrontation memorable.
The second scheduled debate was canceled after Trump contracted COVID-19 and refused to participate in a proposed virtual event. Mr. Trump has since tested free of the virus though there will be plexiglass screens on stage between the candidates.
The candidates will make a two minute presentation at the beginning of each section. The Commission for Presidential Debates had said the opponent's microphone will be muted during this speech to prevent the interruptions that marred the first debate. After this microphones will be open.
The final presidential debate is traditionally focused on foreign policy. In an unusual move the Commission, the officially non-partisan organization that stages the event, did not include foreign policy when it announced the topics. Both campaigns had previously billed it as the foreign policy debate in their literature.
The excision of the topic was vehemently protested by the Trump campaign who said that it was to keep the president's policy achievements off the table and to protect Biden from having to answer questions about his son's dealing in China, Ukraine and elsewhere.
Although Ms Welker will choose the topic for each 15 minute segment, there is nothing to stop either candidate from ignoring the choice and speaking on another subject when their turn comes. Nor is there anything to prevent interruptions after the initial two minutes.
There will be no breaks in the proceedings.
Issues, scheduled and not
Aside from the official topics, COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership, there are certain to be several other subjects bought up by the candidates regardless of the moderator's instructions.
Mr Trump has already said that he will talk about the corruption charges swirling around Biden and his son Hunter.
The New York Post has published email and text messages between Hunter Biden and various associates and representatives of Chinese and Ukrainian firms that suggest an organized plan for Hunter to profit from introductions to his father.
The information was obtained from a laptop computer left unclaimed for repair and later subpoenaed by the FBI in a money-laundering investigation.
The Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe has said, and the FBI has concurred, that the laptop is Hunter's and the information is not a Russian plant, as had been alleged by some Biden defenders.
The e-mails have been vouched for as genuine by two of their recipients, one of whom, ex-Naval officer and Hunter business associate, Tony Boublinski, has been reported will be a guest of Trump's in the audience.
Mr Biden has long denied knowing or meeting any of this son's business acquaintances or having any knowledge of his business dealing, despite Hunter having accompanied his father on many official trips to the countries in question.
Neither Mr. Biden or his campaign have denied that the computer or the emails are Hunter's.
Although this is not on the official agenda, it is hard to see how the documented charges would not be relevant for a presidential debate. If Ms Welker attempts to change the subject or otherwise control the discussion, it is doubtful Mr Trump will accept that decision.
Look for Mr Trump to address his questions directly to Mr Biden as he did in the first debate when he asked him if he planned to pack the Supreme Court.
When Mr. Trump brings up Hunter expect Biden to counter with any number of accusations from the past four years, from taxes, to the discredited Russian collusion charges and the Ukrainian based impeachment.
Mr Trump will also bring up his administration's record in foreign policy and his intentions for a second term and likely question the Commission decision to eliminate the topic. Perhaps addressing this question directly to Ms Welker.
It is quite possible that these topics, introduced by the candidates will dominate the debate.
For Mr. Trump the challenge will be to stay on message, to be calm, considerate and maintain composure. He will need to make the Hunter charges stick without appearing to browbeat Mr Biden. In the past Mr Biden has become emotional in defense of his son and if Trump can apply pressure it could be a weak spot for his opponent.
Biden will try to get Trump excited and distracted with personal charges and accusations. Mr. Trump, in the past has exhibited a thin skin on attacks. He will also try to avoid policy discussions, especially on the Supreme Court and his proposed 'commission' to determine the tribunal's future, taxes, the Green New Deal and fracking. He has to walk a fine line between disappointing his leftist youth base and frightening the political middle he needs in the swing states. He must seem alert, attentive and in command of facts and diction.
The debate promises to be a political event of surpassing interest. Mr. Biden needs to fortify his lead with a performance that reassures the audience that he is capable of the presidency and to effectively refute the corruption charges against his family and himself.
Many if not most of the mainstream media outlets, including Ms Welker's NBC, have refused to cover the Hunter corruption story despite its evident factual basis. In bringing up the charges and possibly reading the emails Mr. Trump may be able to capitalize on audience surprise. Mr. Biden knows this attack is coming. He has had four days to prepare.
Recent momentum has favored the Trump campaign and the movement in the polls has started to resemble the final two-weeks of the 2016 election. If President Trump can sustain that direction then the election may well tilt in his favor.
Mr. Biden, however, ahead in the polls, does not need an outright victory, but only to hold his own in the confrontation.
Unless there is a breakdown by either candidate or a first-order unusual event, markets are unlikely to take much notice, however heated the rhetoric.
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