US President Donald Trump and the Democratic contender for the White House, Joe Biden, both landed in Ohio on Tuesday for the first head-to-head debate, as the campaign teams batter each other in the media.
Ahead of the debate, Trump’s team again went after Biden’s mental and physical fitness, demanding inspection to see if the Democrat is wearing an earpiece, presumably to be fed information during the debate.
Biden’s team firmly denied he would be cheating, while also rejecting the idea that the candidate was seeking breaks every 30 minutes. The attacks come as Trump is under pressure.
Not only is he facing sharp criticism over his handling of the coronavirus and the more than 200,000 dead, he is now taking hits over revelations that he barely paid taxes for years.
The New York Times reported that Trump who in part based his candidacy around his business success – paid just 750 dollars a year in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017, and no taxes for years prior. The president also has a mountain of debt, the report said.
Biden released his tax returns hours before the debate, showing last year he and his wife earned 985,000 dollars and paid federal income taxes of some 288,000 dollars.
The debate will take place from 9-10:30 pm (0100-0230 GMT on Wednesday) in Cleveland, Ohio, five weeks before the November 3 election. The candidates will not shake hands and will keep distance, because of the coronavirus.
Each candidate will initially have two minutes to respond to one question which may be chosen from a list of topics including the economy, civil unrest and the coronavirus. After that, they will go to a back-and-forth debate style.
The two candidates will likely get locked into a heated debate about Trump’s push to quickly replace recently deceased Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Biden is calling for the election victor to make the appointment, saying early-voting is already underway.
Trump has nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative judge, to replace the liberal Ginsburg, and Democrats fear a sharp shift in the balance on the court that could have negative ramifications on their policy plans, on top of issues like abortion rights.
Election integrity is also on the agenda after Trump recently declined to explicitly commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses. Trump, 74, comes into the debate trailing Biden in the polls.
He has sought to portray Biden as senile and has suggested without evidence that the 77-year-old former vice president takes performance-enhancing drugs, demanding he takes a test.
Biden, who has been known to be gaffe-prone for years, has laughed off the accusation. The presidential debate, moderated by Fox News journalist Chris Wallace, is the first of three.
Vice President Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, the Democrats’ nominee, will also debate in October.
While debates historically are not shown to shift the opinion of most voters, there are undecided citizens for whom every debate may be the conclusive factor for some voters.
Pundits have warned that Trump’s constant attacks on Biden’s fitness may hurt him, as voters have come to expect a weak Democratic debator.
However, this sets the bar low for Biden, a seasoned politician who has been preparing vigorously for the debate.