WASHINGTON — Less than three months since he declared his 2020 candidacy, Michael Bloomberg is tied in major endorsements with Senator Elizabeth Warren, who officially joined the presidential race over a year ago.
In an NBC News tally of endorsements from members of Congress and governors, both Bloomberg and Warren have a total of 14 endorsements. The two are tied for second place behind Joe Biden with 47 and ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with just eight.
Bloomberg, who has yet to participate in a Democratic debate or be on the ballot in Iowa or New Hampshire, has seen a recent surge in endorsements allowing him to tie with the Massachusetts senator.
Warren had a weaker than anticipated performance in the two early states, placing third in the Iowa Caucus and failing to earn any delegates in New Hampshire.
Since the first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday, Bloomberg has racked up four endorsements, totaling eight this month. Notably, two Congressional Black Caucus members — Democratic Reps. Lucy McBath of Georgia and Gregory Meeks of New York — voiced their support for Bloomberg this week.
Warren on the other hand, hasn’t received an endorsement from a member of Congress since Rep. Joaquin Castro, TX-20, formally backed her on January 14. Before that, the last time Warren was endorsed was July, 2019.
Warren’s endorsements stem from her home state and some of the most progressive members of Congress. While she has no gubernatorial endorsements, her fellow Massachusetts Senate Democrat, Ed Markey, supports her candidacy.
Bloomberg has yet to receive the formal backing of any senator but is endorsed by Rhode Island’s Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo. He has also garnered the support of moderate Democratic House members serving in former Trump districts like Rep. Max Rose in New York and Rep. Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey.
2d ago / 10:33 PM UTC
Tom Steyer’s wife moves to South Carolina ahead of primary
WASHINGTON — The wife of presidential candidate and entrepreneur, Tom Steyer, moved to South Carolina this weekend to campaign for her husband ahead of the upcoming primary in the state on February 29.
Kat Taylor resigned from her position as the CEO of a California-based bank and relocated to South Carolina where she’s renting a house for the remainder of Steyer’s 2020 campaign. Taylor will also hit the trail in Super Tuesday states.
“I’ve always been in support of my husband, because of that I came to Columbia to show my full support,” Taylor said in a statement to the Associated Press on Tuesday.
Taylor said that when the two took their wedding vows, they “made a commitment to leave everything on the table in a fight for a better world.”
Tiffiany Vaughn Jones, Steyer’s South Carolina Communications Director, told NBC News Wednesday that Taylor wants to take on a more active role in the campaign. The two plan to focus on improving both air and water quality, increasing access to affordable health care and housing, generating jobs, and creating a better future for young voters while on the trail.
Vaughn Jones said that the 2020 race is clearly “wide open and the primary is now shifting to states that dramatically favor our campaign.”
“Our continued surge in South Carolina and Nevada demonstrates that Tom is the only candidate who is building the diverse coalition that will beat Donald Trump in November,” she said.
South Carolina is widely considered the first diverse state of the primary cycle and a place where Democrats are competing to win over the black vote. The demographic makes up about two-thirds of the party’s electorate in the state.
Steyer has repeatedly emphasized throughout his time on the trail the importance of the minority vote, stating at Friday’s debate hosted by ABC News that, “We have not said one word tonight about race. Not one word.”
Taylor will also address racial issues while campaigning for her husband. She kicked off her time in South Carolina by hosting college students to discuss Steyer’s plans for increasing funding for historically black colleges and universities Tuesday afternoon.
Up to this point in his candidacy, Steyer surpasses the Democratic field in total spending, coming in second after Michael Bloomberg. In just the last seven months, he has spent $14 million on ads and recruited about 100 new staffers and additional volunteers in South Carolina alone.
Other candidates like Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have argued that the billionaire is buying his way through the race.
Maura Barrett and Josh Lederman
3d ago / 2:39 PM UTC
Bloomberg gets endorsed by two CBC members
DES MOINES, Iowa — Stacey Plaskett, a Democratic representative to Congress from the U.S. Virgin Islands and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., are endorsing former Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign.
Plaskett, who had backed Sen. Kamala Harris until the California senator ended her White House bid, says she is backing Bloomberg in order to “bring the fight to Donald Trump.”
Plaskett worked with Bloomberg after Superstorm Sandy hit the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2012, and said in a statement that the former New York City mayor “not only has the policies to bring equality and wealth creation to communities of color and economic development to keep us competitive in the world, he’s not afraid to fight.”
McBath cited Bloomberg’s “unmatched record in gun violence prevention” as a primary reason for her decision. “Nobody running for president has done more for the gun violence prevention movement than Mike,” she said in a statement. “I am proud to stand with him in this race, and work with him when he is in the White House to keep our communities safe.”
This comes after a new national Quinnipiac poll showed Bloomberg with the support of 22 percent of black Democratic primary voters, eating away at former Vice President Joe Biden’s support among the demographic. Shortly after that poll was released, video and audio clips resurfaced online in which Bloomberg defends his controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy during his time as mayor, clips re-circulated by a supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. A Bloomberg official says the campaign was aware of at least one of the recordings and was braced for them to surface as a major issue at some point in the campaign.
One of the recordings, verified by NBC News, is audio from a 2015 Aspen Institute appearance, in which Bloomberg said, “you can just Xerox [copy]” the description of male minorities aged 16-25 and hand it to police. He also said, “We put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do you do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.”
As the Trump campaign widely circulated the videos as well on Monday, Bloomberg spent the morning meeting with over 20 African American faith leaders in New York City. The leaders released a statement following the meeting, reading, “[Bloomberg] expressed regret over his past insensitivity regarding policies like stop and frisk and showed a continued interest in restorative justice. To be clear: None of us believe that Mike Bloomberg is a racist. Actions speak louder than words, and Mike has a long record of fighting for equality, civil rights, and criminal justice reform.”
3d ago / 2:22 AM UTC
Chants of ’46’ raise prospect of Donald Jr. as a dynasty builder
MANCHESTER, N.H. — While introducing the man who hopes to be Donald Trump’s successor in 2024 here Monday night, the president’s eldest son experienced something that had never happened before.
In-between touting his father’s accomplishments and slamming Democratic candidates, Donald Trump Jr. paused briefly to let a chant ricochet around the SNHU Arena: “46! 46! 46!”
It started out, seemingly organically and from just a few sections of the 11,000-person venue before it caught like wildfire. Moments later, Vice President Mike Pence took the stage and received huge applause from the crowd, but none as forward-looking as the acclaim Trump Jr. had just received.
And it didn’t just happen once. Later in the rally, as the president called members of his family up to the podium to the stage, thanking them for what they’ve “gone through” in recent years,” the audience again broke into the “46!” cheers.
“It was incredible,” Trump Jr. told NBC News outside a polling station in Derry on Tuesday. “I have not heard that one either. I had heard 2024 a couple times, but then it wasn’t like one guy in the front. It went pretty viral. And I’m sitting there like, ‘hey, let’s worry about 2020 first!’”
Trump Jr. also told Fox News Tuesday that he found the crowd reaction “an incredible honor and very humbling” but maintained his “only focus” is this year’s race.
But while Trump supporters in New Hampshire were eager to cast their ballots for the incumbent on Tuesday, some also admitted they were already thinking about four years from now.
“He’s done a great job being his dad’s right-hand and he would definitely do a good job in his footsteps,” said Alexa Firman, owner of “Simply Delicious” bakery in Bedford, where Trump Jr. and his girlfriend — also a senior adviser to the campaign — Kimberly Guilfoyle stopped by unannounced on primary day.
The couple also did retail stops in Iowa, in and around the caucuses there last week, and they said they plan to continue the kind of local politicking Trump himself rarely engages in.
The president’s other children are also quite involved in the re-elect effort. Eric and Lara Trump are part of the campaign, and son-in-law Jared Kushner is the main conduit between the White House and 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale. Ivanka Trump has focused more on her administration role but she has vowed to stump for her father as the general election nears and even appeared with Pence at a few stops in the Granite State this week.
The prospects for a potential Trump dynasty got another boost in New Hampshire Tuesday, where early exit polls showed that those voting in the GOP primary there were overwhelmingly supportive of the president and said they had more allegiance to Donald Trump (54 percent) than the Republican Party (34 percent).
Benjamin Pu and Liz Brown-Kaiser
3d ago / 5:35 PM UTC
Nevada Democratic Party prepares for caucus after Iowa chaos
WASHINGTON — The Nevada Democratic Party released a memo to reporters Tuesday morning detailing the early voting process that will take place ahead of state’s caucuses next Saturday, February 22.
“From the beginning, NV Dems’ priority has been to execute the most accessible, expansive, and transparent caucus yet,” Alana Mounce, Nevada State Democratic Party Executive Director, states in the memo originally sent to Nevada campaign staff Monday.
“That’s why we expanded upon Caucus Day to include four days of in-person early voting, multilingual training and caucus materials, and a robust training program for our nearly 3,000 volunteers,” she continues.
Early voting will take place from February 15 through February 18 at over 80 locations throughout Nevada. Democrats can vote wherever they’d like in their respective counties as they are not assigned to specific precinct sites.
If a voter is not a registered Democrat or must update their registration, they are able to do so at their early voting location.
Among the memo’s highlights are bullet points explaining that early voting will be conducted on paper ballots, which will then be transported to a secure location and scanned at the end of each early voting day. Voter check-in will be done on iPads available on-site.
The votes however, will not be tabulated until Caucus Day. While campaigns will receive early vote data showing who has voted early, official presidential preferences will not go public until precinct caucuses have begun.
It is not yet clear how the Nevada Democratic Party will safely store voting information to avoid any sort of tampering though the memo states that the ballot transportation process to hubs will be tracked.
“A clear chain of custody outlined on the ballot box — from the time the ballot box leaves NV Dems HQ to the time it is dropped off at their designated hub — will be documented,” the memo reads.
Mounce adds that Nevada Democrats have tested and “simplified the voting process” in order to “streamline information and to ensure we minimize errors.”
The announcement comes after the Iowa Democratic Party was controversially forced to delay releasing caucus results due to both technological errors and necessary corrections to the tallies. The Buttigieg and Sanders campaigns have both requested a partial recanvass in some of the Iowa Caucus precincts, arguing that their campaigns undeservedly suffered from discrepancies in the party’s official results.
4d ago / 4:22 PM UTC
Most voters think President Trump will win reelection, new poll finds
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Two-thirds of voters believe that President Trump will be re-elected in November, according to a new Monmouth University poll released Tuesday. Of those, 27 percent said they think Trump will “definitely” be re-elected, while 39 percent said they feel he will “probably” win again.
The poll also finds that just 11 percent of registered Democrats say their party’s eventual nominee will “definitely” beat Trump, while 38 percent said “it is more likely than not” that President Trump will win.
In the Democratic primary race, the poll shows a new front-runner, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leading the field at 26 percent support among Democratic and lean-Democratic voters — up from 23 percent in the last national Monmouth University poll, taken before the Iowa caucuses. Former Vice President Joe Biden fell to 16 percent support in this poll — in January he was at 30 percent.
And former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg saw the biggest bump post-Iowa. In the new poll, Buttigieg rose to 13 percent, tied with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. In the previous Monmouth poll, Buttigieg’s support was at just 6 percent.
The poll also finds former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg with 11 percent support nationally, making this his third qualifying poll, out of the four he needs, to make the Democratic debate stage in Nevada. Because Bloomberg will likely not receive a delegate from the New Hampshire race, where he is not on the ballot, Bloomberg’s only way to qualify will be through the polling thresholds.
Democratic voters also raised concerns about the party’s nominating schedule. Twenty-six percent of Democratic voters said they felt that having Iowa and New Hampshire go first in the contest “makes it less likely” that the party will “nominate the best candidate for president.” And that’s the argument that some candidates, like Biden, are making on the morning of the New Hampshire primary contest.
4d ago / 11:22 PM UTC
Klobuchar declines to set expectations for New Hampshire
EXETER, N.H. — Amy Klobuchar declined to set expectations for Tuesday’s primary here, saying in an interview that it would be for “many others” to decide what constitutes success, adding that she has “kept meeting every single standard” set before her thus far.
The Minnesota senator has ridden a wave of post-debate momentum the last three days: raising more than $3 million and jumping to third in one prominent tracking poll.
Klobuchar has avoided being pinned down on whether a third place finish is her goal, but has pledged to go on to Nevada regardless, where she is scheduled to speak at a League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) conference Thursday.
The candidate acknowledged that her road ahead will be challenging. She has spent far less time in diverse Nevada and South Carolina than she did in Iowa or New Hampshire, and in a Quinnipiac national poll released Monday, she failed to register any support among African American voters.
“I have had significant African American support in all my races that I have run, and that is in Minnesota. A number of the leaders from my state have been out campaigning for me including the mayor of St. Paul — went out to L.A., went out to Iowa for me. And so that’ll be part of my strategy,” Klobuchar told NBC News. “And the other piece will just simply just be getting people to know me, they don’t know me.”
4d ago / 9:13 PM UTC
Poll roundup: Sanders and Buttigieg on top in New Hampshire, Bloomberg rising in national poll
WASHINGTON — With one day to go before the New Hampshire primary, Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg sit at the top of the newest polls of likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters.
Then, there’s a pile-up significantly behind those two candidates, with former Vice President Joe Biden at 11 percent, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 10 percent, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 7 percent, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard at 5 percent and businessman Andrew Yang at 4 percent.
But that poll shows Klobuchar in third place with 14 percent, ahead of Biden and Warren’s 12 percent each.
While part of the CNN poll was conducted before Friday night’s debate, all of the WBZ poll was conducted after that debate, which could help to explain some of the differences between the two.
Both polls show that a significant portion of the electorate is open to changing their mind before Tuesday’s vote — almost half of the CNN/UNH respondents say they’re only leaning toward a candidate or still trying to decide, while 38 percent of WBZ poll respondents say they’re open to changing their mind.
Looking beyond New Hampshire, Quinnipiac University dropped another national poll that found Sanders holding firm and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg rising.
Sanders leads with 25 percent, followed by Biden at 17, Bloomberg at 15, Warren at 14, Buttigieg at 10 and the rest of the pack very far behind. That sample has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.
Those results represent a modest increase for Sanders and a modest decrease for Biden when compared to Quinnipiac’s last national poll from two weeks ago. But Bloomberg’s share of the vote shot up significantly from 8 points in late January to 15 points now.
And while the margin of error for smaller groups is larger, Biden’s numbers with black voters dropped 22 points between the two polls, while Bloomberg’s rose by 15 points.
Quinnipiac national poll: Black voters
Biden 27% (-22 in two weeks)❗ Bloomberg 22% (+15)❗ Sanders 19% (+2) Warren 8% (+1) Buttigieg 4% (+4)
In head-to-head matchups against President Trump, Bloomberg performed the best, ahead by 9 points. Sanders led Trump by 8 points, Biden by 7 points, Klobuchar by 6 points, and Warren and Buttigieg by 4 points each.
Maura Barrett, Priscilla Thompson, Ben Kamisar and Gary Grumbach
4d ago / 9:08 PM UTC
Sanders and Buttigieg campaigns request partial recanvass of some Iowa caucus precincts
DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, are officially calling for a partial recanvassing of the results of last week’s Iowa caucuses, claiming they found discrepancies in the party’s official results that hurt their campaigns.
The state party announced Sunday that Buttigieg had won 14 national convention delegates from what it said was a narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses. Sanders received 12 delegates; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren won eight delegates; former Vice President Joe Biden secured six delegates; and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar won one delegate.
But while those results were based on the party’s revised results, the NBC News Decision Desk has not called the race for any candidate or issued its own delegate allocation after a series of delays and inconsistencies surfaced in the days following the caucuses.
The Sanders campaign says it wants the Iowa Democratic Party to recanvass 25 precincts and three satellite caucuses, arguing that there are errors in the data that could flip a national delegate to Sanders.
“Our volunteers and supporters worked too hard, and too many people participated for the first time to have the results depend on calculations that even the party admits are incorrect,” Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver said in a statement.
“Once the recanvass and a subsequent recount are completed in these precincts, we feel confident we will be awarded the extra national delegate our volunteers and grassroots donors earned.”
The Buttigieg campaign requested a recanvass in 66 precincts and the in-state satellite caucuses in what a campaign aide told NBC News was in direct response to Sanders’ request.
In a letter sent to Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price, the Buttigieg campaign contends this recanvass would result in a net gain of 14 State Delegate Equivalents for Buttigieg. A campaign aide notes that the Sanders’ campaign recanvass request would at most result in a net gain of fewer than six SDEs.
4d ago / 9:04 PM UTC
New Hampshire leaders stay on the sidelines ahead of primary
WASHINGTON — Less than 24 hours before the New Hampshire primary, the only member of Congress from the state who is endorsing a presidential candidate is Democratic Rep. Ann Kuster.
Kuster, who has represented New Hampshire’s second district since 2013, announced her endorsement of former South Bend Mayor, Pete Buttigieg, on January 15.
“With our country so consumed by division, @PeteButtigieg is the leader who can finally turn the page on the Trump presidency and bring our nation together,” Kuster tweeted that day. “He has the courage to break from the past to lead us to a better future — I’m excited to endorse him to be our next president.”
Buttigieg shortly after thanked Kuster for her backing, writing in a statement that amid a time of dysfunction in Washington, Kuster has united constituents and “spent her career delivering results for New Hampshire families.”
The congresswoman co-chairs the campaign and has hit the trail with Buttigieg.
No other national politicians from the state have yet to formally support a 2020 presidential candidacy for the first-in-the-nation primary. The Granite State’s lack of endorsements also stands in contrast with the number of Iowan endorsements issued ahead of last week’s caucuses.
Three out of four congressional districts in Iowa are represented by Democrats and all of them announced endorsements of 2020 Democrats prior to the February 3 caucus in the state.
Democratic Reps. Abby Finkaneur and Cindy Axne of IA-01 and IA-03 respectively endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden in January. David Loebsack of the Hawkeye State’s second district endorsed Buttigieg the same month.
Ben Kamisar and Jeremia Kimelman
5d ago / 4:17 PM UTC
Sanders, Buttigieg raised more money online in N.H. than rest of Democratic field
WASHINGTON — Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg sit at the top of the polls in New Hampshire one day before the state’s primary. And new data shows they raised more money online from the state last year than the rest of the Democratic presidential field.
Sanders raised the most New Hampshire online dollars of any candidate in 2019 through the Democratic online-fundraising platform ActBlue. He raised $727,410 from Granite Staters through the platform, which handles virtually all online donations for Democratic candidates, an NBC News analysis shows.
Buttigieg finished 2019 in a clear second place for New Hampshire online donors, significantly behind Sanders but also well above his other competitors. He raised almost $510,370 through the platform.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised $344,600 through ActBlue from voters in her neighboring state, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden’s $253,380, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s $190,000 and businessman Andrew Yang’s 147,610.
That order — Sanders at the top, followed by Buttigieg then Warren then Biden then Klobuchar then Yang — mirrors the ActBlue fundraising results from Iowa. It’s also almost exactly how the candidates finished in the state’s caucus last week, according to the state Democratic Party’s results, with Sanders and Buttigieg locked in a virtual tie, followed by Warren, then Biden and Klobuchar.
However, Iowa’s results have been marred by concerns about accuracy and the NBC News Decision Desk has not called a winner or allocating any delegates as a result of the caucuses at this time.
ActBlue is the primary online fundraising tool that candidates use to accept donations. Fundraising totals through ActBlue don’t include offline donations, like checks sent to campaigns directly.
WASHINGTON — While both have their strengths, neither President Trump nor Joe Biden is a virtuoso debater. And each of them have their challenges at tonight’s first general-election debate in Cleveland, Ohio.
For Trump, maybe his biggest challenge is simply being the incumbent president — that, for the first time in four years, you have to share a stage with your opponent and get treated like an equal. Think what happened to Barack Obama in his first debate in 2012. Or George W. Bush during his showdowns in 2004.
“It’s the trap of presidential incumbency,” longtime GOP debate expert Brett O’Donnell told one of us.
For Biden, the challenge is two-fold: One is handling all of Trump’s verbal slings and arrows and keeping the debate focus on the coronavirus and Trump’s record.
And two is simply being the frontrunner and having the most to lose tonight.
In fact, as the challenger who’s leading in the polls against a sitting incumbent, Biden has both the most to gain and most to lose.
Don’t expect the debates to change many minds
Yes, debates have mattered in past presidential cycles.
But the polling shows that most voters’ minds are already made up heading into tonight’s first debate.
If tonight wasn’t Debate Night, the biggest story in the country might be the coronavirus.
The worldwide death toll passed 1 million. Cases in the U.S. are on the rise or holding steady. And the New York Times reports how the White House pressured the CDC to downplay the risks of sending children back to school.
Data Download: The numbers you need to know today
7,183,186: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 35,479 more than yesterday morning.)
206,295: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 355 more than yesterday morning.)
102.34 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.
More than 1 million: The number of deaths worldwide from COVID-19.
On the campaign trail today: President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden debate tonight at 9:00 p.m. ET from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Biden’s different debate approach
We don’t know much about how President Trump and Joe Biden have been preparing for tonight’s debate, but NBC’s Mike Memoli and Marianna Sotomayor report from Biden world:
“In part because Trump is the sparring partner and in part because of the stubbornly stable state of the race, the former vice president has taken a different approach to preparing for this debate (compared to his 2008 and 2012 vice presidential debates) – and his team is majorly downplaying just how important it will be.”
“Asked Sunday what he needs to do, Biden answered simply: ‘Just tell the truth.’”
Ad Watch from Liz Brown-Kaiser
Today’s Ad Watch turns to South Carolina, where Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison is running a stronger-than-expected race against GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Senate Majority PAC, the main Democratic outside group for Senate contests, says it’s dropping $5 million on TV ads and $1.5 million on digital advertisements to boost Harrison and target Graham.
The new TV spot hitting airwaves Tuesday accuses Graham of failing to lower prescription drug prices during his more than 20 years in Congress.
“If we want lower drug prices, we need to clean out the swamp,” the narrator says. “Lindsey Graham: Gone Washington, gone bad.”
The Democratic Super PAC’s ad push comes as polls show Harrison and Graham virtually tied, and after Graham repeatedly appealed to Fox News viewers for campaign donations during interviews.
The Lid: Who run the world?
Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we checked in on how women view the president. (Spoiler alert: It’s a big, big gender gap.)
CLEVELAND — The first debate of the 2020 presidential election is one of President Donald Trump’s last best chances to shake up a race that Democrat Joe Biden is leading.
The polling has so far seemed largely impervious to news events, with Biden’s lead staying consistent through a pandemic, Supreme Court fight and more, and the president is running out of time to change that dynamic with just five weeks left until Election Day.
The debate is expected to draw an audience of up to 100 million, making it a rare political moment in which the public’s attention will be fixed to the same political event for 90 minutes, largely unfiltered by partisan or ideological media outlets.
Biden spent decades in the Senate, with its rules and reverence, while Trump came up in the world of tabloids and reality TV, with its ruthless irreverence. Biden has cleared his schedule to prepare diligently with binders and mock debate sessions with advisers, while Trump is reported to have proudly eschewed traditional debate prep. He and his advisers say he prepares for the event every day on the job as president and in his frequent and often contentious press conferences.
Trump’s untraditional style was what drew many Americans in the first place, and he’s often mocked stiff-shirted politicians by joking at rallies that he could be presidential — if he wanted to.
But Biden’s camp believes voters are growing tired of the Trump show and the former vice president is hoping to model a more stable, experienced and compassionate alternative to Trump, believing the contrast in styles will speak as loudly as anything either candidate says.
2. Senior moments
Either Trump, 74 or Biden, 77, would be the oldest president in American history on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2021, and both have accused the other of losing a step.
Biden allies have fired back at Trump by making similar, if less pointed, claims, singling out moments such as his unannounced visit to Walter Reed medical center last year. But Trump has been far more visible than Biden in recent months, holding regular campaign rallies and appearing at the White House nearly every day, while Biden has been holding fewer and more virtual events, so it’s been harder for Democrats to sell the idea that Trump is not physically up to the job.
3. New attack lines?
The president has spent the past few months trying out different narratives against Biden, but nothing has seemed to stick.
He went after Biden’s son, Hunter, and the work he did in Ukraine that Trump insists is corrupt and nepotistic, though fact-checkers have undercut those claims. He made Biden’s mental fitness a centerpiece for a while. Then he accused the former vice president of being a “trojan horse” for far-left radicals.
As racial justice protests broke out in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Trump made law and order the main message of the Republican National Convention. When polling showed that broadside falling flat, Trump accused Biden of being too soft on China.
The Trump campaign released a list of 17 questions Tuesday morning that they say Biden needs to answer during the debate, the first of which was on Hunter Biden.
Campaigns are often most effective when they pick one of attack on an opponent and hammer it incessantly. Will Trump just throw the kitchen sink at Biden? Or will he have something new?
4. Below the belt
Nothing is out of bounds for Trump, especially when his back is against the wall. He brought women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault to a debate with Hillary Clinton days after the release of the Access Hollywood tape that recorded Trump joking about grabbing women’s genitalia.
The president is now behind in the polls and faced another bombshell on the eve of the debate when The New York Times obtained his tax information and reported he paid next to nothing in income tax and owes over $400 million in debt.
For his part, Biden has his own temper — especially when his family is attacked, and Democrats have argued about whether he should show restraint or let his righteous indignation fly. While many Democrats would like to see the latter, it would undercut Biden’s desire to contrast with Trump’s style.
“They asked me would I like to debate this gentleman (Trump), and I said no. I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him,'” Biden joked to a crowd of college Democrats two years ago.
5. A referendum or a choice?
Biden wants to make the election a referendum on Trump and his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Trump wants to make the election a choice between him and Biden, which gives him a chance to discredit Biden.
Both camps have been trying to bend the election in either direction for months, but this will be the first time the two men will directly confront each other. Trump will try to downplay the COVID crisis and turn attention to Biden’s record, while Biden will try to brush aside those attacks and keep the focus on the person who has power now.
Who will succeed in setting the terms of the debate?
Alex Seitz-Wald is senior digital politics reporter for NBC News.