As the November 8th US presidential election gets closer everyday, so does the polls. A recent CNN poll shows the candidates in a deadlock. There is a lot at stake tonight for both candidates at the first presidential debate.

Here are some ways to watch the first presidential debate tonight.

It all starts at 9PM Eastern Time. Like the leadup to a big boxing match, both candidates are surely practicing their best vocal jabs in anticipation of the real thing. Which side of Trump will we see tonight? Will we see the Trump that dominated the narrative of the GOP contest by being on a constant offensive, finding weaknesses in his opponents and manipulating them, or will we see a Trump that is measured and argues policy, not personality?

Will Hillary Clinton manage to take control of the debate stage and use her political experience as leverage, or will she fall victim to Trump’s overwhelming stage presence?

The First Presidential Debate Moderator is…

Lester Holt of NBC will moderate the first presidential debate tonight. He has moderated political debates before. In January, he was part of the moderation team for a debate between Democratic candidates. In it, he stuck to script when asking candidates questions and didn’t really venture much into the area of spontaneity. Tonight could be different.

Lester Holt as seen on NBC
Lester Holt as seen on NBC

Spontaneous questions could be just the thing to keep the candidates – and the watching world – on their feet. After all, the job of President of the United States often requires spur-of-the-moment decision making that isn’t always planned ahead of time. Seeing how both candidates react to intelligent, impromptu questions might be the best way to demonstrate who would make a better commander-in-chief.

Lester Holt has proven himself to be fair to each side of the political spectrum. Critics should not expect him to favor either candidate but instead remain in the center, challenging both equally, as should be done. Lester Holt will be moderating the first presidential debate tonight alone.

Trump’s campaign has voiced their opposition to the announced debate moderators, most recently calling Lester Holt a Democrat; Lester Holt is a registered Republican.

What Hillary Clinton Needs to do Tonight

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been plagued with PR gaffs and big missteps. Her health has become a primary focus for her critics. Videos of her falling over, being carried by staff, and making overenthusiastic and somewhat neurotic facial expressions are posted all over the internet. We recently wrote about Hillary Clinton’s health and why it’s a legitimate campaign issue.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at a Democratic debate
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at a Democratic debate

Without a doubt, Donald Trump will try his best to control the narrative at tonight’s debate. Hillary’s health and her perceived dishonesty will be main areas of attack for Trump. In order to appear strong to the American public, Hillary Clinton will have to be able to deflect or redirect Trump’s criticisms without appearing overly aggressive. This is a difficult task. Trump clearly has the power of getting under her skin, and it might wear thin on her patience.

While Hillary Clinton has more experience in public service, many people view her as a career politician. This is a deficit for Clinton because Trump has bent the narrative of the presidential election to reflect negatively on those viewed as “insiders.” A career politician certainly qualifies as an insider in this narrative.

Clinton will have to bend her insider status to positively reflect as experience and know-how. If done right, it could be all that it takes to back Trump up against a wall. After all, the experienced person is usually best for the job – right? Trump would have you believing otherwise.

Trump has to Continue Setting the Narrative

Whatever happens at the first presidential debate tonight, Trump has to do one thing to win: control the narrative. Trump’s ability to manipulate his opponent’s criticisms into positive traits has done wonders for his public image. If he can continue twisting Hillary’s words against her, he’ll do strongly tonight.

Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee
Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee

On another hand, many undecided voters view Trump as overly impulsive and aggressive. If he wants to appeal to those voters while maintaining the support of his base, he’ll have to find balance between offensive political name calling and tactful policy discussion. The Donald has managed to appear “presidential” before, and in the remaining presidential campaign, refining his public image into that of a measured, responsible commander-in-chief is critical.

Many voters distrust the system and view Hillary Clinton as a part of it. If Donald Trump can continue to successfully paint himself as the “outsider” coming to “fix” Washington, and Clinton as part of the problem, it may be enough to bring him over the edge and into the White House in January.

What’s at Stake Tonight

Public opinion of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is quite low. Both candidates can do a lot to improve their public perception by performing well at the first presidential debate tonight. For Trump, it will be about presenting himself as refined leader ready for the White House, and for Hillary, it will be about distancing herself from criticisms of health, dishonesty, and the so-called “insider” status.

Neither candidate is at risk of losing much of their base of support in any of the presidential debates; however, the debates will have a substantial influence on voters who are undecided.

In order to appeal to undecided voters, each candidate will have to do their best to correct what many view as inherent flaws in their leadership and personality – which isn’t easy when the public says there are so many.

The first presidential debate will take place tonight at 9PM Eastern Time. The venue is Hofstra University in New York state.

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