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 some 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 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 hall 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.
While the intended formats will stay the same going forward, the CPD issued a statement that the first debate “made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.” (A refresher: That first debate went off the rails with Trump constantly interrupting both Biden and the moderator, leading to a chaotic, and often times incoherent, night.) The CPD said it “intends to ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates” and “will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly.”
How can I watch the debates?
The debates are carried on all major networks, including ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, Fox, PBS, MSNBC, Telemundo, and Univision. The Washington Post and the New York Times will also be streaming the debates, and CBS News, C-SPAN, PBS NewsHour, NBC News, Fox News, and ABC News set up streams on YouTube.
According to the Times, Google will also be providing a livestream. All you have to do is search “watch presidential debate” and the debate will appear on the results page.
Now that Trump has tested positive for COVID-19, will there even be more debates?
We’ll see. According to CDC guidelines, Trump should quarantine for the next 14 days, so there’s a chance the second debate could be cancelled. (The nation is also waiting to get the results of Biden’s latest COVID-19 test.)Vanity Fair‘s Gabriel Sherman reported: “Sources I spoke with are doubtful the next two debates will happen.” The CPD has yet to make a statement and there has been no official announcement about the future of the debates.
But even before Trump contracted COVID-19, some people were calling for an end to the debates. In case you somehow missed it, the first presidential debate was decidedly unpresidential, with Trump constantly interrupting Biden and both candidates trading barbs throughout the night. The messy and chaotic evening led to a handful of headlines like “Just Cancel the Last Two Debates. America Has Suffered Enough,” and “After That Fiasco, Biden Should Refuse to Debate Trump Again.” However the Washington Post reported that, after the event, Biden’s top advisors confirmed he would participate in the other two scheduled debates.
Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, told reporters, “We are going to the debates, guys. We don’t know how many different ways we can say it. Yes, we are going to the debates.” She also said there would be conversations with the CPD over the debate format and rules.
Did Trump try to change the debate schedule before?
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 would 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 argued that very early voters are not likely to “be swayed” by the debates.
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