Biden and Trump
The first presidential debate of the 2024 general election will take place this Thursday in Atlanta between President Biden and presumptive GOP nominee Trump AFP

NEW YORK CITY - The first presidential debate of the 2024 general election will take place this Thursday in Atlanta. As the race remains increasingly tight, spectators will be looking at President Biden and former President Trump to kick off a new phase of the election season.

This particular event is unusual— it will take place months earlier than customary and with a new set of rules both candidates have agreed to, including no live audience. It's also the first debate either candidate has participated in this season, since Biden largely ran unopposed and Trump skipped the GOP primary debates.

Here's what else you should know about the upcoming event.

When and how to watch?

The debate will kick off at 9 p.m. ET and will run for 90 minutes. It will be moderated by CNN's Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. It will take place at the network's studios in Atlanta.

You can watch the debate on CNN, the streaming platform Max or the CNN website.

Who will be there?

Biden and Trump are the only presidential candidates who qualified for the debate stage.

Other candidates must meet a threshold which requires them to poll at 15% or higher in four national surveys and appear on enough stage ballots that could theoretically push them past the needed 270 Electoral College votes to secure the presidency. Hence, despite his popularity and household name, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will not be in the debate.

What's new for this debate?

Candidates this year lobbied for earlier debates, abandoning the tradition of participating in events coordinated by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).

Biden and Trump will take part in Thursday's debate on CNN and then a second in September coordinated by ABC News.

They have also agreed to these new rules:

  • Microphones will be muted unless a candidate is directed to speak.
  • Candidates are not allowed to bring pre-written notes or props. They will receive a pen and paper, as well as a bottle of water.
  • A coin toss determined podium positions and the order of closing statements. According to CNN, Biden's campaign won the coin toss and chose the podium to the viewers' right. As a result, the Trump team chose to deliver the final closing statement of the evening.

Trump's expected focus: inflation, immigration and crime

Trump advisers and allies have privately encouraged him to focus intensely on the economy, crime and inflation during this debate, citing poll numbers that reflect he has the upper hand on these issues, guiding him to stir away from grievances that have occupied his mind for the past four years, CNN reports.

"These are issues that people are hurting from and that need to be addressed," Trump senior adviser Jason Miller said during a call Tuesday with reporters, citing recent record inflation, crime committed by undocumented migrants and President Biden's handling of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Some allies have also urged the presumptive candidate to paint the international landscape under Biden as chaotic and focus on both the two-year war in Ukraine and the fighting between Israel and Hamas as examples.

"This isn't theoretical anymore," Trump ally Rep. Mike Waltz told "CNN News Central," when asked what he hopes to hear from the former president during the debate. "This is what life was like under the Trump administration— economically with inflation, with the border with security, in terms of crime and the world... Just look at the Middle East... You're going to see the contrast and the contrast is going to be clear."

The elephant in the room: criminal records

Biden's campaign has signaled an increasing willingness to lean into Trump's criminal record in recent days, The Associated Press reports. But aside from a few jabs, Biden himself has largely distanced himself from Trump's prosecutions to avoid the appearance of political interference.

Biden is also aware that Trump may go after Hunter Biden's own criminal history. He was recently convicted on three felony charges related to the purchase of a gun while allegedly being addicted to drugs.

When will the next debate be?

The second presidential debate will be hosted by ABC News on Sept. 10.

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