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Stage set for first debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden

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By Michael Daventry
Tuesday's debate takes place in Cleveland, Ohio
Tuesday's debate takes place in Cleveland, Ohio   -   Copyright  Julio Cortez/AP

US President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, the former vice president, were making final preparations on Tuesday ahead of the first of their three televised debates before November’s presidential election.

The debate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio begins at 9pm local time (3am CEST on Wednesday).

Presidential debates have previously demonstrated they can sway undecided voters from one side to another, and analysts have said Tuesday will be an opportunity in particular for Trump, who is behind Biden in the opinion polls.

Foreign policy is unlikely to feature in a debate that is expected to focus largely on domestic issues, although both candidates’ remarks will be watched overseas for clues on future positions the United States could take on global issues.

But the candidates’ personal finances are certain to be discussed.

On Tuesday afternoon Biden released his latest tax returns in a deliberate nod to Trump, whose financial records leaked to New York Times this week revealed he had paid just $750 in income tax in 2016.

The president has consistently refused to publish his own records.

The 90-minute debate will be divided into six segments of around 15 minutes each, with the questions chosen by the moderator, the Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.

The Commission on Presidential Debates, which organises the televised event, has announced the topics likely to be debated will include both Trump and Biden’s records in office, the Supreme Court and the US economy.

Covid-19, race and violence in American cities and questions over the integrity of the upcoming election are the other topics expected to feature.

Donald Trump spent Tuesday morning in informal preparations before flying to Cleveland for a more detailed planning session with his aides, among them former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor.

He raised eyebrows earlier this week when he suggested — without evidence — that his “sleepy” opponent was taking performance-enhancing drugs and should be tested before or after the debate.

Biden did not respond himself, but his campaign said: “If the president thinks his best case is made in urine he can have at it.”

Next week, the two vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Kamala Harris will face each other at the University of Utah, while Trump and Biden will not meet again until a debate in Florida on October 15.