Trump, Biden to face off in high-stakes final debate

Nashville (AFP) –


Donald Trump and Joe Biden hold a high-stakes debate on Thursday that may be the final opportunity for the president -- trailing in the polls -- to present his case for reelection to a primetime American television audience of millions.

Trump, 74, is expected to use the second and last debate to renew his attacks on the past business dealings of Biden's son Hunter.

Biden, 77, is expected to focus on Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic which has left more than 222,000 people dead in the United States and millions unemployed.

With the election just 12 days away, the debate is being seen as perhaps Trump's last and best chance to make up ground on Biden before the November 3 vote.

More than 45 million Americans have already cast their ballots, according to a University of Florida tally, and the candidates will be targeting any remaining undecided voters.

"This is an important last opportunity for the candidates to talk to people who haven't voted," said Amy Dacey, executive director of the Sine Institute of Policy and Politics at American University.

"This is probably one of the largest audiences they'll reach right before the election," Dacey said.

"I think the Trump team must be looking at this as a must to reach people and convince people," said Dacey, a former chief executive officer of the Democratic National Committee.

Kyle Kondik, managing director of the political newsletter "Sabato's Crystal Ball" at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said the debate is the final major event on the road to the election.

"Donald Trump went into the conventions trailing, and he is still trailing," Kondik said. "The debate represents one of the last opportunities to change the trajectory of the race.

"The stakes are high for both candidates though -- Biden wants to keep the race just where it is, and he doesn't want to provide any late fuel to the Trump campaign."

- 'Bias, hatred and rudeness' -

Trump trails Biden by 7.7 points in a RealClearPolitics average of national polls and is behind in most of the key battleground states that are crucial to victory.

The 90-minute debate is being held at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and is scheduled to start at 9:00 pm Eastern Time (0100 GMT).

It will be televised by all the major broadcast networks, cable news channels and live-streamed on various platforms including YouTube.

The first debate on September 29 was a chaotic affair with constant interruptions and name-calling and measures have been put in place this time to try to ensure order.

The candidates' microphones, for example, will be cut off while the other one answers questions from the moderator.

A second debate planned for October 15 was cancelled after Trump came down with Covid-19 and declined to take part in a virtual debate.

As a health precaution, plexiglass barriers have been erected this time alongside the lecterns where the two candidates will stand.

The topics for the debate were picked by the moderator, Kristen Welker, a White House correspondent for NBC News.

Welker, 44, the first woman of color to moderate a debate since 1992, selected six topics: fighting Covid-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

Trump has lashed out at Welker on several occasions, calling her a "radical Democrat" and "no good."

He took another shot at her on Thursday as the White House released raw footage of an interview Trump did with the CBS show "60 Minutes."

"Look at the bias, hatred and rudeness on behalf of 60 Minutes and CBS," Trump said. "Tonight's anchor, Kristen Welker, is far worse!"

In the "60 Minutes" interview Trump also continued to fling accusations of corruption at the Bidens -- a line of attack he is likely to pursue during the debate.

"It's the biggest scandal," Trump told 60 Minutes, an assertion met with skepticism from the CBS interviewer. "I think it's one of the biggest scandals I've ever seen and you won't cover it."

Obama issued a stark reminder of 2016, when surveys showed Hillary Clinton as the clear favorite -- only for her to lose to Trump on Election Day.