ATLANTA (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden and his Republican rival, Donald Trump, will meet Thursday for the first general election debate of the 2024 season — a chance for both candidates to try to reshape the political narrative and persuade undecided voters.

Biden, the Democratic incumbent, has the opportunity to reassure voters that, at 81, he’s capable of guiding the U.S. through a range of challenges. Meanwhile, the 78-year-old Trump could use the moment to try to move past his felony conviction in New York and convince an audience of tens of millions that he’s temperamentally suited to return to the Oval Office.

Thursday’s debate in Atlanta will mark at least a couple firsts — never before have two White House contenders faced off at such advanced ages, and never before has CNN hosted a general election presidential debate.


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— Here’s what’s at stake for Biden and Trump in this week’s presidential debate

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Here’s the latest:

The candidates have agreed to meet at a CNN studio in Atlanta, where each candidate’s microphone will be muted, except when it’s his turn to speak.

Additionally, no props or prewritten notes will be allowed onstage. The candidates will be given only a pen, a pad of paper and a bottle of water.

There will be no opening statements. A coin flip determined Biden would stand at the podium to the viewer’s right, while Trump would deliver the final closing statement.

Going without a live audience was important to the Biden campaign, but also to CNN. The network’s town hall with Trump in 2023 was panned in large part because of the presence of Trump partisans.

The security around the debate site and nearby press filing center is tightening up as tonight’s showdown draws nigh.

Unscalable fencing has gone up around the CNN studios where President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will meet, as well as the Georgia Tech arena where hundreds of journalists are gathered to cover the debate.

There have been at least a few protesters near the site, including a man clad in a black-and-white prison-style outfit and a sign reading “Lock Biden Up.”

Various groups have indicated their intent to gather near the debate site, but a downpour of mid-afternoon rain may be dampening — literally — some of those plans.

White House correspondents are upset with CNN for not allowing one of its members inside the Atlanta studio during the debate to file pool reports on what happens there that isn’t captured by cameras.

CNN offered to give access to one print reporter during a commercial break, but White House Correspondents’ Association President Kelly O’Donnell of NBC News said that’s not enough.

“The White House pool has a duty to document, report and witness the president’s events and his movements on behalf of the American people,” O’Donnell said in a letter to CNN. “The pool is there for the ‘what ifs?’ in a world where the unexpected does happen.”

O’Donnell says the White House Correspondents Association has been pressing its case for weeks with CNN, which is running the debate, as well as with the Biden and Trump campaigns.

CNN has no immediate response to O’Donnell, but has maintained there is no room for a pool reporter — even though there will be photographers present.

The network noted that the debate is being held in one of its studios without an audience and is considered a private event — even though tens of millions of people are expected to watch on television or streaming.

About 6 in 10 U.S. adults say they are “extremely” or “very” likely to watch the debate live or in clips, or read about or listen to commentary about the performance of the candidates in the news or social media, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Former President Donald Trump’s handpicked party leader wants the former president to talk about the future rather than the past in tonight’s debate.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Whatley told The Associated Press that Trump should “talk about the opportunity we have as a country to pick change” and “to lay out his vision for where we need to go” after the “failure under Joe Biden’s four years.”

Whatley notably did not mention the 2020 election and Trump’s lies that his defeat was fraudulent. He also did not mention Trump’s felony conviction and other pending indictments. Asked specifically whether he thinks Trump should avoid those issues, Whatley said the debate is “an opportunity in front tens of millions of Americans to talk to them about this election cycle. We need to take advantage.”

A lively crowd of supporters greeted President Joe Biden as he arrived at his Atlanta hotel ahead of tonight’s debate.

The crowd of about 50 chanted “Four more years.” Many wore campaign T-shirts. Some held placards with Biden’s trademark aviator sunglasses on them. Others had signs with the face of Biden’s alter ego “Dark Brandon.”

The president pumped his fist and embraced one man, a possible sign of how he’s getting energized for the evening’s showdown with former President Donald Trump.

Choosing public service over pure profit, CNN offered to let other networks carry the debate feed; ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, PBS and C-SPAN will all do so. The other networks also have the right to sell their own ad time during the two commercial breaks.

The networks had to agree to CNN’s rules — they must keep CNN’s insignia onscreen and can’t interrupt with their own commentators while the debate airs. Internationally, only CNN is carrying it.

The debate begins at 9 p.m. EDT and will last for 90 minutes.

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