Presidential debate: Donald Trump and Joe Biden
Date: Thursday, Oct. 22
Start time: 9 p.m.
Location: Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
Moderator: NBC News corespondent Kristen Welker
TV: All major broadcast and cable news networks
President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will face off Thursday night in Tennessee in the final presidential debate, where both candidates hope to win over whatever small pool of undecided voters remains leading up to the 2020 election on Nov. 3.
Biden, 77, enters the debate ahead in most national polls (and in several battleground states, such as Pennsylvania). In recent days, he took himself off the campaign trail to prepare for tonight’s faceoff, leaning on surrogates like former President Barack Obama to rally voters on his behalf.
As with the first debate, it’s unclear how much time Trump, 74, spent preparing. Since recovering from COVID-19, the president has continued to hold large rallies in battleground states across the country, including in Erie on Tuesday and North Carolina on Wednesday.
“I do prep, I do prep," Trump told reporters outside the White House on Wednesday without elaborating.
Moderating Thursday’s debate is NBC News White House corespondent and Weekend TODAY coanchor Kristen Welker, a Philadelphia native who has covered both Trump and Biden during her time reporting in Washington. Trump and his Republican allies have baselessly attacked Welker’s credibility, despite senior campaign adviser Jason Miller saying earlier this month he had a “very high opinion” of her and thought she was “a very good choice.”
Welker will be under intense pressure to remain in control in the wake of the first presidential debate last month, where Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and moderator Chris Wallace. One change that will benefit Welker is a new rule that will mute the microphones of both candidates at times. Biden praised the move during an interview with a Wisconsin ABC affiliate on Tuesday, while Trump panned it as “very unfair."
The debate will be broken up into six 15-minute segments, each focusing on a single topic chosen by Welker and approved by the Commission on Presidential Debates — the coronavirus pandemic, “American Families,” race in America, climate change, national security, and leadership.
The debate will air commercial-free on all major broadcast networks and cable news channels. Most media experts expect fewer viewers to tune in compared to the first debate, which drew an estimated 73 million TV viewers.
“I think it’s likely that both nationally and in Philadelphia this debate will be down significantly compared to the first debate, which clearly left a bad taste with many viewers,” Michael Mulvihill, the head of strategy and analytics for Fox Sports, told the Inquirer. “Add to that the fact that millions of Americans have already voted and it certainly seems like the urgency to watch this debate will be lessened.”
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the debate:
What time does the final presidential debate start and end?
The final president debate between Trump and Biden is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. Eastern and last an hour and a half.
The event will air live on all major broadcast channels (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS) and cable news networks (C-Span, CNN, MSNBC, Fox Business, Fox News), though in Philadelphia it won’t air on Fox29 because of the Eagles-Giants game. The debate will also be available to stream on a host of so-called “skinny” cable bundles, such as YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, AT&T Now, and FuboTV.
You can also stream the debate here, courtesy of C-SPAN:
‘A tough, scrappy Philadelphian’: Can Kristen Welker prevent tonight’s debate from becoming another circus?
Welker, 44, is known in media circles as a dogged but fair reporter, and drew widespread praise for her performance as a co-moderator during a 2019 Democratic primary debate on MSNBC. She’s just the second Black woman to moderate a presidential debate ― the first was Caroline Simpson, who hosted a 1992 town hall between Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ross Perot.
“She’s got all the virtues of a tough, scrappy Philadelphian,” said NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell. "She’s very down to Earth, very connected to home and family, and I think she combines all of the great talents you’d want in a superb journalist.
A Philadelphia native who was raised in Fairmount, Welker knew in sixth grade she wanted to be a reporter, telling the Inquirer in 2016 she was “in awe of Barbara Walters interviewing Patrick Swayze and dancing with him.” Welker graduated from Germantown Friends School and Harvard University, and spent several years working for ABC affiliates before landing with NBC in 2005 as a reporter for NBC10.
Welker joined NBC News in 2010 and was promoted to White House corespondent the following year. In January, she was named coanchor of Weekend TODAY back in January, a moved that was praised at the time by Trump (Welker took over for fellow Philly native Sheinelle Jones, who now cohosts the third hour of the TODAY show).
Mitchell quickly became friends with Welker (the two worked closely together during the 2016 presidential campaign) and said the bipartisan praise Welker has received shows the respect she has earned in Washington.
“She is universally liked because of who she is,” Mitchell said. “Consciousness, diligent, smart as can be, and one of the most collegial people I’ve ever met in this profession."
Mitchel said the commission’s decision to mute the candidates' microphones should help keep things orderly, and she said Welker has a “spine of steel” in dealing with distractions. But ultimately, Mitchell said it’s up to Trump to follow the rules.
“Donald Trump went in [to the first debate] with a strategy, which was to blow the thing up," Mitchell said. “And I hope he’s learned his lesson, because it did not help him at all. And this is his last opportunity to try to reverse his polling and reach the largest number of Americans.”
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