The competitors for the White House are facing off in what could be the most-watched presidential debate in US history, agencies report. A record 100 million people are expected to watch the first debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, televised from in New York.
The stakes are high as the candidates head into the debate tied in most national polls. They both know their performance could help them win, or lose the November 8 election.
The first topic discussed was job creation, with candidates being asked how they would make American manufacturers bring back production to the US. The debate heated up as the rivals discussed the NAFTA trade deal.
Off topic while still debating under the banner “Achieving Prosperity”, Trump mocked Clinton for spelling out on her website how she would fight the ISIL. “At least I have a plan,” Clinton countered, later saying that before the night was over, she would be “blamed for everything”.
The candidates also hit out at each other over issues that have plagued their campaigns: for Trump, his refusal to release his tax returns, and Clinton, controversy over the use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.
Trump said as soon as Clinton releases 30,000 emails, “I will release my tax returns”. Moving on to the second topic of the night, “America’s Direction”, and how to heal America’s racial divide, Clinton said “race still determines how people are treated in the US criminal justice system”.
Trump used his opening segment on the same issue by stressing the importance of “law and order”, and praising the stop-and-frisk policy – struck down by a New York judge after the policy was widely deemed a form or racial profiling.
Later on, Clinton said Trump started his career in 1973 being sued by the justice department for racial discrimination in the real estate discrimination, adding that Trump has a “long history of engaging in racist behaviour”.
Trump responded that the lawsuits had been settled “with no admission of guilt”.
The third topic chosen by the Presidential Debate Commission for Monday’s showdown at Hofstra University, is “Securing America”.
Getting back to discussing the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and clashing with Clinton over the Iraq War, Trump said “we should have taken the oil”. He went on to say that if that had happened, ISIL would not have been able to form as oil is a main source of income for the group, which has taken territory in Syria and Iraq.
Trump’s popularity has been rising in the lead-up to the debate. Quinnipiac University declared the race “too close to call” on Monday, with its latest national poll of likely voters suggesting 47 percent of support for Clinton and 46 percent for Trump.
It is the first time the two candidates will stand side by side since becoming their parties’ nominees.
One of the big questions ahead of the debate is whether Trump will stick to the calmer tone adapted in the last few weeks or return to the wild comments and insults that marked the early stages of his campaign.
“Trump’s campaign has been a spreading a rumour in the media and on social media that he’s not been trained for the debate,” political science professor Jason Johnson told Al Jazeera. “We know that’s not true.”
Two more debates are to follow on October 9 and October 19.