WASHINGTON: The first US presidential debate between incumbent Joe Biden and Republican rival Donald Trump on June 27 will include two commercial breaks, no props and muted microphones except when recognised to speak, CNN said on Saturday.

In May, the candidates agreed to face off in two debates including one this month that will be moderated by CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash in Atlanta, while the other on Sept 10 will be hosted by ABC.

CNN said both candidates will appear at a uniform podium during the 90-minute debate, podium positions will be determined by a coin flip and candidates will be given a pen, a pad of paper and a bottle of water but cannot use props.

“Microphones will be muted throughout the debate except for the candidate whose turn it is to speak,” CNN said.

CNN, a division of Warner Bros Discovery, said the moderators “will use all tools at their disposal to enforce timing and ensure a civilised discussion.” During the two commercial breaks, campaign staff may not interact with their candidate, and there will be no studio audience.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. not qualified

CNN said candidates eligible to participate must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to win and receive at least 15 per cent in four separate national polls. CNN said it is “not impossible” Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is running as an independent, could qualify, saying he has received at least 15pc in three qualifying polls to date and has qualified for the ballot in six states, making him eligible for 89 electoral college votes.

Debates, which will draw a US live television audience in the tens of millions, are fraught with risks for both candidates, who face a close race. Biden has three preferred debate topics, according to a campaign memo: abortion rights, the state of democracy and the economy.

Trump refused to debate his rivals during the Republican nominating race. His team has pointed to immigration, public safety and inflation as key issues ahead of the debate.

Fundraising battle

Biden’s switch from geopolitics to US electioneering also marks the start of a more intense phase in his battle with Trump ahead of November’s knife-edge election. Polls show the pair largely neck-and-neck, with many voters turned off by a rematch between the nation’s oldest president and a 78-year-old convicted felon.

They have been in a fundraising battle too, with Biden raking in more for months but Trump doing better recently as supporters rally over the guilty verdict in his porn star hush money trial. Biden is expected to head to the presidential Camp David retreat next week to start preparing for the June 27 showdown.

The Democrat is expected to go on the offensive on issues like abortion and democracy where his campaign thinks Trump is vulnerable. But he will also be preparing for how to deal with full-frontal personal attacks by the former reality TV show host.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2024

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