Clinton, Trump to engage in historic debate battle
(CNN) It could be the greatest political show on Earth.
With a tight election on the line, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton will face off in just hours at their first presidential debate, a battle 18 months in the making that is emerging as the most hotly anticipated moment in modern US political history.
An audience rivaling that of the Super Bowl — perhaps around 100 million Americans — will be glued to televisions, smart phones and social media when the rivals rip off the gloves at 9 pm ET (tonight). The debate marks a rare shared experience for a country deeply divided along political lines and fragmented in the media they consume.
Suspense has been building for weeks, given the huge political stakes of an increasingly competitive election. And Trump’s wild-card antics, which will test Clinton’s fact checking skills, mean no one can predict how the showdown at Hofstra University in New York will unfold.
The rivals spent Monday prepping for their big battle.
Clinton has been taking part in mock debates with her tart-tongued former aide Philippe Reines playing Trump. In one practice debate, Reines assumed the character of the unpredictable Trump by praising Clinton for her role as a pioneer for women, campaign sources said.
The Republican nominee has watched videos of Clinton but his preparation has been less intense than his opponent’s in keeping with his more freewheeling style. He did not hold mock debates, for instance, with someone standing in for Clinton.
It also emerged on Monday that there is no written agreement setting out the terms for the debates between the campaigns. Such deals have often been in place in previous debates, governing everything from the heights of the podiums to the topics of the event and the time available for each question.
Clinton, the Democratic nominee, is clinging to a narrow lead in many national polls, but now has almost no margin of error in the battleground states that will decide who will take the oath of office as the 45th President in January. A CNN/ORC poll released Monday found Trump edging Clinton 42% to 41% in Colorado among likely voters in a four-way race. In Pennsylvania, the poll found Clinton in a virtual tie against Trump among likely voters at 45% to 44%.
The Democratic nominee’s task is to knock Trump off balance and force him to stick to facts instead of the vague — sometimes outrageous — statements he made during the GOP primary debate.
“We want these candidates to be judged fairly,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook to CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.” “Do they both have specific plans to make people’s lives better? Do they both have a real command of the issues?”
Trump, meanwhile, faces the challenge of bringing his unconventional style to one of the most traditional venues of a presidential campaign. His outsider campaign represents a repudiation of US domestic and foreign policy and if the debate helps convince Americans to elect him, he will lead the nation on a sharply different course than the one President Barack Obama has charted for nearly eight years.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, said the debate is a chance for the candidates to make their case directly to voters.
“You know when those two candidates take the stage for the first time in the same place, no more media filters, no more parsing of words,” Pence said at a town hall in Milford, New Hampshire. “The American people are going to be able to hear from two candidates and they’re going to hear about two futures for this country.”
The destiny of the Supreme Court is up for grabs and the GOP’s control of the Senate is on a knife-edge in an election that has sparked fierce controversies about race, faith, gender and the nature of America itself.
But there’s another factor that makes Monday’s debate, the first of three scheduled clashes, so significant. Clinton and Trump happen to be two of the most famous people in the country — if not the world — and their triumphs and disasters over the past quarter-century have reverberated far wider than the political bubble, embedding them in the fabric of American life.
National cultural moment
In fact, the glass-ceiling-shattering female icon and the real estate magnate and reality star-turned-unlikely politician have the potential to lift the debate out of the political realm into a national cultural moment. It could be the kind of event where everyone will remember where they were when they saw it unfold.