Everything You Need to Know About the Presidential Debates

Posted on: September 23rd, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

(WASHINGTON) — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are going to have their formal showdown Monday at the first presidential debate of the season.

The debate at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, launches the campaign into a new stage as the countdown to Election Day races on.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of focus [on the debates] and they’ve always been a really important part of the process,” said Peter Eyre, a senior adviser with the Commission on Presidential Debates, the independent organization that sponsors the events.

Here’s a rundown of all of the information that’s available to date:

When and Where

First presidential debate: Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. All of the 90-minute debates air at 9 p.m. ET.

Moderator: NBC’s Nightly News anchor Lester Holt

The debate will have six segments covering different subjects, according to the commission.

The commission announced that Holt had selected three topics — America’s direction, achieving prosperity and securing America — to cover during the debate, but noted that they were subject to change based on news events.

Vice presidential debate: Oct. 4 at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.

Moderator: CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano

The debate will feature nine segments, each about 10 minutes long. The topics of the debate will be announced about a week before it is held, as is the case for the other two presidential debates.

Second presidential debate: Oct. 9 at Washington University in St. Louis.

Moderators: ABC News’ chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper

The debate will be in a town hall format, with about half the questions asked by members of the audience and the other by the moderators. Gallup is responsible for finding the audience members, who are supposed to be uncommitted voters, the commission announced.

Third presidential debate: Oct. 19 at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Moderator: Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace

The final debate will be in the same format as the first one.

The specific themes will be announced about a week before the debate.

Who Will Be on Stage

Clinton and Trump are the only candidates who qualified to participate in the first debate, but that is not necessarily the case for the other two debates.

The Commission on Presidential Debates decided months ago that in order to participate, candidates must have support averaging at least 15 percent in selected national polls. Commission officials announced on Sept. 16 that neither Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson nor Green Party candidate Jill Stein had enough standing to qualify for the first debate. Subsequent decisions will come for the rest of the debates.

The commission previously announced it will use five surveys — ABC News/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times, CNN/Opinion Research Corp., Fox News and NBC/Wall Street Journal — to make the decision.

Who Will Be in the Audience

In the run-up to the first debate, attention is now being paid to some of the big names that will be in the audience off-stage.

Chelsea Clinton will attend the debate, a first for her this election cycle after not attending any of the Democratic primary debates.

And then another familiar face is expected to be in the front row supporting Team Clinton: Mark Cuban.

The billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner is a vocal Clinton supporter and reportedly went so far as to volunteer to play Trump in Clinton’s mock debates. He said earlier this week that the Clinton team never returned his email offer, but they did keep him in mind for another move.

If Cuban is being put in the front row as some kind of psychological fake out for Trump, the television audience shouldn’t expect to enjoy his presence. Eyre told ABC News that the viewing audience will not be in the camera shot during the debate.

Depending on the venue, the viewing audience ranges in size from more than a couple dozen people but fewer than 100 people at each venue, Eyre said.

The audience will be a mix of guests of the universities, guests of the campaigns and “others who have made the debates possible, including sponsors, members of the media, security, etc.,” he said.

The audience at the second presidential debate will be different from the other two, however, because that debate will be a town hall format where some of the audience members will be asking questions of the candidates. Polling company Gallup has been tasked with finding the audience members for that event who are expected to be uncommitted voters.

How the Moderators Were Picked

Commission officials are tasked with picking the moderators for the debates, and while they normally announce their decisions in August, the final list was released in September this year.

“These journalists bring extensive experience to the job of moderating, and understand the importance of using expanded time periods effectively,” Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. and Michael D. McCurry, co-chairs of the nonpartisan commission, said in the statement announcing the moderators.

Raddatz, who is a co-anchor of the ABC News Sunday show This Week, is the only one of the four who has been selected by the commission before. She moderated the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan in 2012.

CNN’s Candy Crowley was selected to moderate the town hall-style debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012. This year, that format will have two moderators: Raddatz and Cooper.

Crowley was the second female debate moderator ever. The first was ABC News’ Carole Simpson in 1992.

“The formats chosen for this year’s debates are designed to build on the formats introduced in 2012, which focused big blocks of time on major domestic and foreign topics,” Fahrenkopf and McCurry said in the release. “We are grateful for their willingness to moderate, and confident that the public will learn more about the candidates and the issues as a result.”

Debate Prep Underway

In keeping with their starkly different campaigns, the candidates are taking dramatically different approaches to debate prep.

Clinton cleared her schedule and took herself off the campaign trail for the four days before debate day. She’s doing intensive debate prep, which includes mock debates complete with a Trump stand-in, as well as reviews of Trump’s performance in Republican primary debates, according to campaign sources.

By contrast, Trump had two campaign events scheduled for Thursday, and while off the trail on Friday, he did add events to his schedule over the weekend.

His debate prep has been slim and he has not delved into policy or participated in mock debates, sources have told ABC News.

The one study tactic that they both share is a review of their opponent’s past performances. But while aides say Clinton has been actively reviewing Trump’s work, senior level Trump sources say he was given an iPad loaded with footage of old Clinton debates, though it’s unclear how much time he has spent watching them.

Trump is reportedly being advised by his senior campaign staff, including campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and campaign CEO Stephen Bannon, as well as former Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who has worked on the campaigns of Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan in the past.

Well-known Washington lawyer Bob Barnett is said to be advising Clinton during her debate prep. He helped her prepare for the primary debates by playing Sen. Bernie Sanders. The campaign has reportedly found someone to play Trump in their mock debates but they are remaining tight-lipped about the person’s identity.

Trump hasn’t spoken extensively about his debate prep, but does talk about the tone he expects to take.

“I’m going to be very respectful of her,” Trump said during a phone interview on Fox News Thursday.

“I think she deserves that and I’m going to be nice. And if she’s respectful of me, that’ll be nice. We’ll have something that I think people will respect as a debate but we’ll see where it all goes. You really never know exactly how it’s going to turn out and that’s why we’re going to have a lot of people watching,” he said.

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