With viewership predicted to rival that of the Super Bowl, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are facing off Monday night for the first of three televised debates.
The debate, taking place at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, is set to run from 9 to 10:30 p.m EST.
WATCH THE LIVESTREAM HERE:
Among the questions heading into the debate: which Donald Trump will America see? The attack dog who decimated “Low-Energy” Jeb Bush, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz and “Little Marco” Rubio during the Republican primary debates? Or the measured, sober-minded Trump who looked presidential while standing next to the president of Mexico last month?
Will Clinton try to provoke Trump into overreacting with counter-punches in ways that could turn off voters? Or will she ignore attacks from Trump and try to make herself look like a more knowledgeable and serious contender?
Will Clinton face tough questions on Benghazi, the email scandal and her health? Will Trump bring up the sordid scandals of the Clinton presidency years?
Will the moderator give into the pressure by those who say the moderator should “fact check” the candidates in real time — despite the backlash after CNN’s Candy Crowley bungled her attempt to do that to Mitt Romney four years ago?
According to the debate commission, Lester Holt of NBC News, who will moderate, will ask questions based on “America’s direction,” “achieving prosperity” and “securing America” topics.
The debate will run for 90 minutes without any commercial breaks. It’s estimated the debate could have more than 100 million viewers. (111 million people watched the Super Bowl last year. In 2012, the first two debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney averaged 66.4 million viewers).
Heading into the debate, the polls show a tightening race, with Clinton leading Trump by just 2.2 points in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls.
Looking at the the RCP polling averages of states, Clinton would get 272 electoral votes to Trump’s 266 votes. Using that map, Trump would need to flip just one state to take the lead, like New Hampshire, Virginia, Pennsylvania or Colorado. A candidate needs a majority of electoral votes — 270 — to win.
Over the weekend, both campaigns taunted each other ahead of the televised showdown. Businessman Mark Cuban, who supports Clinton, tweeted Thursday he had acquired a seat to watch Clinton “overwhelm” Trump at the “Humbling at Hofstra.”
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) September 23, 2016
Trump shot back by saying: “If dopey Mark Cuban of failed Benefactor fame wants to sit in the front row, perhaps I will put Gennifer Flowers right alongside of him!”
If dopey Mark Cuban of failed Benefactor fame wants to sit in the front row, perhaps I will put Gennifer Flowers right alongside of him!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2016
The Trump campaign later said Sunday that Flowers — who rocked the 1992 presidential race after admitting to a sexual relationship with Bill Clinton — had not actually been invited to the debate.
The expectations game is also in full-swing. Ahead of debates, campaigns traditionally downplay their strengths and praise their opponent’s abilities ahead of debates so it can be argued afterwards they exceeded — rather than fail to live up to — expectations.
“For Clinton, high expectations stem from ample experience,” RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer wrote in a memo to reporters last week. “Clinton is a career politician who has spent years sharpening her debate reflexes and beefing up on public policy. Donald Trump is new to the format.”
“Donald Trump is a self-proclaimed great debater who won every one of the Republican debates,” Clinton recently said. “So I take nothing for granted.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates says the “moderators alone will select the questions to be asked” and neither the commission or the candidates know about them ahead of time.
“While the focus will properly be on the candidates, the moderator will regulate the conversation so that thoughtful and substantive exchanges occur,” the commission said in a press release.
Hofstra University hosted presidential debates in both 2008 and 2012.
Based on the criteria set forth by the Commission on Presidential Debates, Trump, the Republican nominee, and Clinton, the Democrat nominee, were both invited to participate in the first debate. Because they did not reach the polling threshold, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein did not make the cut, though the commission said the “criteria will be reapplied to all candidates in advance of the second and third presidential debates.”
The second presidential debate, a town meeting format moderated by ABC’s Martha Raddatz and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, is scheduled for Oct. 9 at Washington University in St. Louis. A third presidential debate, moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News, is set for Oct. 19 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
A debate for the vice presidential nominees, Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, will be moderated by CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.