Clear protective panels stand on stage between lecterns for President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, ahead of their debate at Belmont University, in Nashville, Tennessee, Oct. 21, 2020.
Clear protective panels stand on stage between lecterns for President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, ahead of their debate at Belmont University, in Nashville, Tennessee, Oct. 21, 2020.

WASHINGTON - Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, are debating Thursday night in their last face-to-face confrontation before the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election.

The two candidates, both in their 70s, repeatedly interrupted each other, Trump more so than Biden, at their 90-plus-minute debate in late September, a standoff that some U.S. political pundits described as the worst-ever U.S. presidential debate.
 
But this time, the independent Commission on Presidential Debates is muting each candidate’s microphone while the other speaks for two minutes in response to questions on six current affairs issues selected by moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News.
 
If neither Trump nor Biden attempts to talk over the other during the two-minute opening comments, the commission said it thinks American voters – at least the relatively few who claim they are still undecided on how they will vote -- might get a clearer view of where each might take the country when one of them is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

 
After that, both candidates’ microphones will be turned back on and the free-for-all that ensued last time could be repeated. That’s when Trump and Biden hurled a string of taunts, insults and barbed comments at each other, with the interruptions making it difficult at times for viewers to follow the exchanges.
 
Much has changed between the first debate and Thursday’s event, which unfolds on a university debate stage in Nashville, Tennessee. A second planned debate scheduled for last week was called off after Trump contracted the coronavirus and was hospitalized for three nights.  
 
That led the commission to unilaterally say the two candidates would debate virtually, but Trump refused and the encounter was called off.

FILE - This combination of Sept. 29, 2020, file photos show President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio.

More importantly, millions of Americans have already made up their minds about the election, with more than 43 million people already having cast early ballots by mail or in person. Many have said that during the unchecked coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. they wanted to avoid coming face to face with other voters in the expected long lines at polling stations on Election Day.

Many Democratic voters favoring Biden said they wanted to be among the first to vote to oust Trump, to make him the third U.S. president in the last four decades to lose a bid for re-election after a single term. Republican voters have often told pollsters and news reporters they intend to vote on Election Day in person, as has been the norm for decades in U.S. national elections.
 
Thursday’s debate could be the last, best chance for Trump, a real estate entrepreneur and reality television show host-turned-politician, to cut into Biden’s persistent lead in national and statewide polls. Biden, with nearly a half century on the American political scene as a U.S. senator and second in command to former President Barack Obama, holds a 9- or 10-percentage point lead over Trump in national polls, but a lead of about half that in battleground states that will likely decide the overall outcome.
 
NBC’s Welker says she will ask the candidates about their efforts to control the coronavirus that has killed a world-leading 221,000 people in the U.S. Other topics will include American families, U.S. racial issues, climate change, national security and leadership.
 
In an interview on Fox News on Tuesday, Trump assailed Welker as “totally partisan” and attacked the debate commission as biased against him.
 
The president said he is not happy about the decision to mute microphones of either of the candidates during the opening two-minute statements and claimed that the debate should have focused on foreign policy instead of the coronavirus pandemic and other domestic policy issues.
 
Trump has continued to campaign at large rallies of supporters this week, relishing the energy he believes they add to his campaign and believing they are essential to winning a second term. Biden, meanwhile, has stayed out of public view since last weekend, remaining at his home in the eastern state of Delaware to prepare for the debate.

People walk outside the Curb Event Center at Belmont University as preparations are underway for the second and final presidential debate of the 2020 campaign, in Nashville, Tennessee, Oct. 20, 2020.

The Trump campaign has promised to confront Biden with one issue absent from the first debate – allegations that Biden’s son Hunter used his father’s connections while he was vice president to make lucrative business deals in Ukraine and China.
 
Bill Stepien, Trump's campaign manager, said in a statement this week, “If the media won’t ask Joe Biden these questions, the president will, and there will be no escape for Biden.”
 
Biden has called the questions about his son “a smear campaign,” but has not publicly addressed the specific allegations about Hunter Biden’s deal making, including his holding a seat on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company for which, according to U.S. news accounts, he was paid $50,000 or more a month.
 
How Biden might answer questions about his son’s financial transactions is unknown, as is whether Biden will raise questions about the vast sums that corporations and foreign governments have spent on hotel stays and golf outings at Trump-owned properties during his presidency.
 
Aaron Kall, the debate coach at the University of Michigan, said the stakes in the debate “are once again much higher for President Trump.”
 
Kall said Trump “has little margin for error” because partisan divisions and early voting have left fewer undecided voters than in some recent U.S. presidential elections – perhaps less than 5% of the electorate, according to national polls.
 
“Trump will have lower expectations heading into this debate given his previous poor performance” at the September event, Kall said. “If he can put together a solid performance, that could erase coronavirus from the media headlines for at least a brief period of time.”
 
As for Biden, Kall said, “Given his consistent lead in the polls, Biden doesn't need to deliver a knockout performance or anything resembling that. His campaign likes where the race currently sits and would be happy with an indefinite extension of the status quo political environment.
 
“Just like during the last debate, he needs to be on guard against making a major gaffe that could reset the narrative of the race at a perilous time.”
 

What Happens Next?

What It Means to Become President-Elect in the US

In the United States, Democrat Joe Biden is being called the president-elect.

President-elect is a descriptive term not an official office. As such, Biden has no power in the government, and he would not until he is inaugurated at noon on January 20, 2021.

American news networks, which track all of the vote counting, determined on November 7 that Biden’s lead had become insurmountable in Pennsylvania, putting him over the 270 electoral votes needed to be president. Within minutes of determining his lead was mathematically assured, they projected him as the winner.

That is why news organizations, including VOA, are calling Biden the "projected winner."

Sometimes, in the case of particularly close elections, when news networks make this call, the other candidate does not concede victory. President Donald Trump has not done so, alleging voter fraud without substantial evidence and vowing to fight on. The president’s position has left Washington lawmakers divided, with Republicans backing a legal inquiry into allegations of vote fraud, even as they celebrate other congressional lawmakers who won their races.

When will the dispute be resolved?

The U.S. election won’t be officially certified for weeks. In the meantime, court challenges and state recounts could occur.

So far, the Trump administration has not provided evidence for any fraud that could overturn the result, but there is still time for more legal challenges.

Once states have certified the vote, pledged electors then cast their votes in the Electoral College in mid-December. Congress then certifies the overall Electoral College result in early January, about two weeks before Inauguration Day.