By LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News
(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, face off in the final presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle from Belmont University in Nashville on Thursday night, marking the candidates’ last chance to pitch themselves to tens of millions of voters in primetime before Nov. 3.
The stakes are high: Trump must make his case as polls show him trailing nationally and in several battleground states key to his reelection hopes. At the same time, Biden has a platform to solidify his lead and avoid any major mistakes with Election Day just 12 days away.
Biden has spent the week hunkered down in Wilmington, Delaware, to prepare — what he’s done before other debates — while Trump has seemingly done less to prepare, telling reporters on Wednesday, “I do prep, I do prep,” without elaborating. Earlier this week Trump said that answering journalists’ questions is the best kind of preparation.
Thursday’s debate was supposed to be the candidates’ third matchup but is instead the second of only two presidential debates this election. Trump refused to participate in the second debate when it was moved to a virtual format following his COVID-19 diagnosis. The candidates ultimately participated in dueling town halls instead.
ABC Television Network coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET with a one-hour special, “Trump vs. Biden: The Final Presidential Debate – A Special Edition of 20/20.” ABC News Live will begin previewing the debate at 7 p.m. The debate begins at 9 p.m. and ABC News’ political team will provide context and analysis on both platforms following the debate.
Here’s how the evening is unfolding. All times Eastern.
Oct 22, 7:11 pm
Trump expected to fire off personal attacks as aides advise him to highlight policy issues
Trump’s advisers have urged him to highlight his policy differences with Biden and present his case to the American people as to why he deserves another four years in office, sources said.
He trails Biden in the polls and this is his final opportunity to pitch himself to a large audience in primetime before Election Day.
Some top advisers would like to see a less combative, calmer Trump at the debate but concede that is an uphill battle given the president will focus on Biden’s family, which aides hope will get under Biden’s skin, multiple sources said. However, other top advisers don’t think that focus helps move any of the remaining swing voters.
Aides have also urged him not to interrupt Biden as much and have been re-watching the last debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016 as a guide as the White House views that debate as his strongest. The president’s team also intends to heavily monitor the mute button usage, sources said.
Trump has held no mock debates leading up to his final face-off with Biden and has prepped — in what one source described as a “very compartmentalized” way — with different subject matter experts providing the president a briefing and preparing notes for the president on a particular topic. He has said his best preparation comes from his exchanges with the press.
The group advising the president has also slimmed down. For example, his former counselor Kellyanne Conway and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have taken less prominent roles.
-ABC News’ Katherine Faulders, John Santucci and Will Steakin
Oct 22, 6:53 pm
Biden plans to focus on reaching at-home viewers
As he boarded his plane to Nashville earlier, Biden spoke briefly with reporters, telling them he’s looking forward to the debate and said he hopes Trump plays by the rules.
“There’s plenty of time to talk when this is over, OK? So hopefully he’s going to play by the rules. Hopefully everyone’s been tested. Hopefully it’s all worked out, the way the rules are. I’m looking forward to this,” Biden said before getting on the plane.
Biden’s team has remained tight-lipped about their debate preparation for the final debate, but allies and advisers to Biden said they aren’t expecting much of a change from either candidate ahead of the crucial matchup.
“I think Joe Biden is prepared for a completely unconventional debate in which the President of the United States does not act presidential (for) one minute. And the challenge is to not be distracted by the Trump show, and to make sure that Joe effectively puts out his positive vision,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told ABC News.
An aide to Biden said the former vice president plans to again focus on his message to viewers at home, but would not be shy about standing up to Trump’s interjections when necessary, especially given reports of the president’s planned personal attacks on Biden and his family.
-ABC News’ Molly Nagle
Oct 22, 6:39 pm
Previewing the debate topics
The debate between Trump and Biden will run from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. with no breaks for commercials.
The program will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes each with topics decided by the moderator, NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker.
Topics for Thursday’s debate are:
- Fighting COVID-19
- American families
- Race in America
- Climate change
- National security
Oct 22, 6:23 pm
Plexiglass removed from debate stage
The debate commission has removed the two plexiglass barriers that were positioned between the candidates’ lecterns.
Peter Eyre, senior advisor with the Commission on Presidential Debates, said that circumstances on the ground have changed and it’s unlikely that the plexiglass partitions will be put back up, according to a pool report.
The news follows both candidates reporting testing negative for COVID-19. It’s unclear if those who accompanied them to travel to Nashville were also tested.
-ABC News’ Drew Millhorn
Oct 22, 6:13 pm
Trump to early vote in Florida on Saturday
The White House announced Trump will vote early in Florida on Saturday.
“President Trump plans to early vote on Saturday in West Palm Beach, Florida,” spokesman Judd Deere said.
It had been expected that the president would vote absentee, because even as he has railed against mail-in voting, he has also justified his own practice of voting absentee in the past.
-ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps
Oct 22, 5:55 pm
Trump vs. Biden: On the issues
ABC News has broken down where each candidate stands on some of the key issues:
Oct 22, 5:42 pm
Early voting hits record numbers across the country
With early voting having kicked off in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., at least 47 million votes have already been cast in the 2020 general election as early voting data continues to break records across the country.
In 2016, there was a total of 47 million early votes cast, meaning the country has narrowly passed its 2016 early voting data with 12 days still left.
According to the United States Elections Project, spearheaded by University of Florida’s political expert Michael McDonald, as of Thursday at 5 p.m. ET an unprecedented 47,095,528 voters have already cast their ballots and at least 85,133,505 ballots have been requested in early voting states.
TargetSmart, a Democratic firm that collects political data including early voting statistics, reports that 10 million voters who have already voted in the 2020 election did not participate in the 2016 election. Many of these early votes are coming from young voters as well as first time voters with individuals under 30 years old having cast 9.1% of early votes.
During an earlier press conference, TargetSmart predicted that there will still be an additional 40 million early votes as well as between 60-70 million votes on Election Day. Their prediction allots for at least 150 million ballots cast. In comparison, in the 2016 election, there were 138 million total votes.
-ABC News’ Kelsey Walsh
Oct 22, 5:26 pm
Candidates to face off at a social distance between plexiglass partitions
Plexiglas partitions were placed on the debate stage next to each candidates’ lectern — already set up at least 12 feet apart — as a coronavirus precaution for the second and final presidential debate in Nashville.
According to a source familiar with the debates, the partitions were added under the direction of the Cleveland Clinic as part of its responsibility to keep debate participants safe.
Plexiglass became an issue prior to the vice-presidential debate when the two campaigns squabbled over whether to have physical barriers separate the two candidates.
The insistence on barriers was initially met with resistance by Vice President Mike Pence’s team, but they were ultimately used.
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