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Trump, Biden Prep for First Debate     09/27 11:10

   Ahead of the first debate-stage matchup between President Donald Trump and 
his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, each campaign is promising a stark 
contrast in policy, personality and preparation.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ahead of the first debate-stage matchup between President 
Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, each campaign is 
promising a stark contrast in policy, personality and preparation.

   Trump has decided to skip any formal preparation. And while Biden's team 
believes the significance of the debate may be exaggerated, the Democratic 
nominee has been aggressively preparing to take on the president.

   Biden's campaign has been holding mock debate sessions featuring Bob Bauer, 
a senior Biden adviser and former White House general counsel, playing the role 
of Trump, according to a person with direct knowledge of the preparations who 
spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy. Bauer has not 
actually donned a Trump costume in line with Trump stand-ins from previous 
years, but he is representing his style and expected strategy.

   "I'm sure the president will throw everything he can at (Biden). My guess is 
that they're preparing for that -- bombarding him with insults and weird 
digressions," said Jay Carney, a former aide to Biden and President Barack 
Obama.

   Trump and Biden are scheduled to meet on the debate stage for the first time 
Tuesday night at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in 
Cleveland, Ohio. The 90-minute event moderated by Fox News host Chris Wallace 
is the first of three scheduled presidential debates. Vice President Mike Pence 
and California Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden's running mate, will also debate in 
October.

   For some, the debates represent the most important moments in the 2020 
campaign's closing days, a rare opportunity for millions of voters to compare 
the candidates' policies and personalities side-by-side on prime-time 
television. Trump has been trailing Biden in the polls for the entire year, a 
reality that gives the president an urgent incentive to change the direction of 
the contest on national television if he can.

   Others, including those close to Biden's campaign, do not expect the debates 
to fundamentally change the race no matter what happens, given voters' daily 
struggles with the pandemic and the economy. They also point to high-profile 
debates in past elections thought to be game-changing moments at the time but 
that ultimately had little lasting effect.

   Those with knowledge of Biden's preparations suggest he will not take the 
fight to Trump if he can avoid it. But on Saturday, at least, he was on the 
attack when he discussed his strategy on MSNBC.

   "I'm prepared to go out and make my case as to why I think he's failed and 
why I think the answers I have to proceed will help the American people, the 
American economy and make us safer internationally," Biden said, arguing that 
Trump won't persuade voters with broadsides because "the people know the 
president is a liar."

   He also compared Trump to Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph 
Goebbels, saying, "He's sort of like Goebbels. You say the lie long enough, 
keep repeating, repeating, repeating, it becomes common knowledge."

   While Biden has said he will try to be a fact checker of sorts on stage, the 
Democrat is being advised to avoid direct confrontations and instead redirect 
the conversation to more familiar campaign themes of unity and issues that 
matter most to voters: the economy, health care and the pandemic.

   "Arguing over facts, litigating whether what he's saying is accurate, that 
is not winning to Biden," said Jen Psaki, a former Obama aide who is close to 
Biden's team. "This is an opportunity to speak directly to the American people. 
His objective should be to speak directly to them, but not be pulled in by 
Trump. That is hard."

   Trump has not been doing any formal preparation, according to aides and 
allies who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

   No set has been constructed and aides refused to say whether anyone is 
playing Biden. Trump, instead, has maintained that the best preparation is 
doing his day job --- particularly his frequent and often contentious 
interactions with reporters. White House aides also scheduled an ABC town hall 
earlier this month to expose Trump to real voter questions for the first time 
in months in preparation for the second debate.

   Privately some aides and allies are worried that Trump's lack of formal 
preparation will lead him to fall into the same hubris trap as other incumbents 
in their first general election debate. Obama, for example, famously struggled 
in his first matchup against Mitt Romney in 2012.

   But other Trump backers are confident that the president is ready to handle 
any tough questions or pushback from Biden.

   "The debates matter," said Lara Trump, a senior adviser to the campaign and 
the president's daughter-in-law. "Donald Trump certainly did a great job on the 
debates (in 2016) and I think this will be no different."

   Lara Trump also seemed to simultaneously raise and lower expectations for 
Biden.

   "Joe Biden spent a lot of time in his basement to study up. He's been in 
this game for 47 years. I assume he'll do okay," she said. "Quite frankly, the 
bar has been lowered so much for Joe Biden that if he stays awake for the whole 
thing it's like maybe he won."

   The mixed messages were in line with those of Trump's allies who spent much 
of the year raising questions about Biden's physical and mental strength, while 
in recent days trying to cast him as a strong and experienced debater facing a 
relative neophyte in Trump.

   Trump offered a preview of his approach on Sunday when he raised accusations 
with no evidence that Biden's previous debate performances were influenced by 
medication. In a tweet, Trump said he would demand that Biden take a drug test 
and that he would as well.

   Trump's message seemed to be an attempt at both tripping up Biden and 
preemptively offering an explanation to his supporters if the Democratic 
nominee has a strong performance.

   A former reality show star, the president is keenly aware of the power and 
pitfalls of live television. Aides say he is acutely mindful of the power of 
"moments" to define how a debate is perceived and that he intends to make his 
share of them happen.

   Terry McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor and onetime national 
Democratic chairman, said Biden must fashion a succinct, debate-stage version 
of his message since the spring: draw a straight line from Trump's personal 
deficiencies to his handling of the pandemic, its economic fallout, the 
national reckoning on race and then explain why a Biden presidency would be 
different.

   "Trump's just looking for a Hail Mary here," McAuliffe said. "He knows he's 
in trouble."

 
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