The 2020 presidential election has been anything but predictable. After months and months of primary debates, former Vice President Joe Biden emerged as the Democratic candidate, but not before the coronavirus pandemic dramatically altered almost every aspect of our daily lives.
Primary elections in certain states were rescheduled. The conventions went virtual, and people are being encouraged to vote by mail, all in order to comply with social distancing measures and avoid large crowds.
But even with so much uncertainty, there will be an election come November and there will be more presidential debates. Below, all the dates you need to know, so you can mark your calendars. (And remember, election day is Nov. 3.)
When are the general election presidential debates?
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced that there will be a total of three general election presidential debates this year, all taking place in states President Trump won in 2016. The debates will start at 9 P.M. and run for 90 minutes without any commercial breaks.
- Sept. 29 at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic (Cleveland, Ohio)
- Oct. 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center (Miami, Florida)
- Oct. 22 at Belmont University (Nashville, Tennessee)
What about the vice presidential debate?
There will also be one vice presidential debate, which will take place a month out from the 2020 presidential election. It will also be in a state Trump won in 2016.
- Oct. 7 at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah)
What’s the format?
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced the first and third presidential debates will consist of six 15-minute segments and the moderators will announce the topics for each segment at least a week before each debate. The second debate will be in the style of a town meeting and South Florida citizens will be able to pose questions. As for the vice presidential debate, it will be divided into nine 10-minute segments.
Each debate will have a single moderator: Fox News’ anchor Chris Wallace will take the first presidential debate; USA Today’s Washington bureau chief Susan Page will take the vice presidential debate; C-SPAN’s senior executive producer and political editor Steve Scully will take the second presidential debate; and NBC News’ White House correspondent Kristen Welker will take the final presidential debate.
The CPD also announced it will be “following all CDC, state, county and site health and safety protocols” at each debate and that the Cleveland Clinic will serve as the health security advisor to the commission for all four debates.
The final Democratic primary debate may have been a preview of what’s to come: During that March debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Biden debated without an audience, refrained from shaking hands, and stood six feet apart from each other.
How can I watch the debates?
The debates are carried on most major news networks. C-SPAN has also confirmed it will livestream the debates on its channel, C-SPAN.org, and the C-SPAN Radio app, and the Washington Post will have an uninterrupted live stream.
Will Trump actually debate?
In short: yes. Back in December, there was a New York Times report that said Trump was “discussing with his advisers the possibility of sitting out the general election debates in 2020 because of his misgivings about the commission that oversees them.”
Trump then took to Twitter to explain: “I look very much forward to debating whoever the lucky person is who stumbles across the finish line in the little watched Do Nothing Democrat Debates.”
“The problem is that the so-called Commission on Presidential Debates is stacked with Trump Haters & Never Trumpers,” he wrote. “As President, the debates are up….to me, and there are many options, including doing them directly & avoiding the nasty politics of this very biased Commission. I will make a decision at an appropriate time but in the meantime, the Commission on Presidential Debates is NOT authorized to speak for me (or R’s)!”
Then this February, Trump told reporters, “Yeah, sure. I look forward to it, actually,” when asked if he would debate the Democratic nominee.
In August, Trump’s campaign did ask the CPD to adjust its debate schedule, arguing that the current dates would not be helpful for many people who will be voting early by mail due to the pandemic. The campaign requested the line-up include a fourth, earlier debate in September or for the CPD to move the final October debate to the first week in September. The CPD rejected the campaign’s request.
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The commission wrote in its response letter to Trump’s campaign, “While more people will likely vote by mail in 2020, the debate schedule has been and will be highly publicized. Any voter who wishes to watch one or more debates before voting will be well aware of that opportunity.”
Michael P. McDonald, a political science professor who studies American elections, told the New York Times that while millions of voters should have received their ballots by the first debate, based on his research, “far fewer people will have actually voted by that time.” He also made the point that very early voters are not likely to “be swayed” by the debates.
During a September interview with “Fox & Friends,” Trump spoke about the upcoming debates, saying, “I sort of prepare every day, by just doing what I’m doing. I’ve been all over the place, and I watch this guy sitting home, and I think, maybe I’m doing it wrong,” referring to Biden.
He then gave mixed reviews about Biden’s debate performance, saying that “when they had 20 people on the stage” during the Democratic primary debates, Biden was a “disaster,” but during his one-on-one debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders, he was “fine.”
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