The first of three presidential face-to-face encounters is widely anticipated and could be one of the most watched in US history, as well as crucial to the outcome of the race.
The stage is set in Hempstead, New York, for the first live televised debate before November’s US presidential election.
The tight race and contrasting styles have generated huge interest. It is being tipped as potentially one of the most important political showdowns in US history.
The debate is set to begin at 21.00 local time (03.00 CET) at Hofstra University on Long Island, and is the first of three planned presidential encounters.
Euronews correspondent in the US Stefan Grobe reported:
“The first clash between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is now just hours away. It is expected that up to 100 million people will tune in: in the United States, this is Superbowl level. But the real target audience is just a few thousand voters in every state. That is the number of the undecided that can be swayed by either candidate. So the debate is really about energising the base, erasing doubts, and ‘firing up your folks’ in order to get out the vote. Clinton and Trump will debate for 90 minutes, but the winner likely will be determined in the first half hour: that’s when the audience is most attentive. That’s when Al Gore first sighed, Mitt Romney knocked President Obama on his heels, and Richard Nixon was first caught wiping away sweat with a handkerchief. This is a reminder that presidential debates can hardly be won, they can only be lost.”
Democratic candidate Al Gore was mocked for repeatedly sighing during a televised debate in 2000; a sprightly Mitt Romney put Obama on the defensive in 2012, and Nixon’s physical discomfort under the studio lights alongside a cool John F Kennedy in 1960 was seen as one of the first occasions when television had a major impact on a presidential race.
Opinion polls show Clinton and Trump are the least liked White House candidates in modern history. They also suggest the Democrat’s once sizeable lead over her rival has evaporated in recent weeks.
Strategists say the Republican may have a slight advantage as a political newcomer who could benefit from lower expectations from voters.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday found that more than 60 percent of likely voters were hoping for a civil debate and were not interested in the bitterness shown on the campaign trail.
Both candidates have regularly exchanged insults: Trump has called for Clinton to be jailed over her use of a private email server while secretary of state, while Clinton has condemned the Republican as temperamentally unfit for the White House.