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How the Biden-Trump debate could change the trajectory of the 2024 campaign

ATLANTA (AP) — President Joe Biden and his Republican rival, Donald Trump, will meet for a debate on Thursday that offers an unparalleled opportunity for both candidates to try to reshape the political narrative.

Biden, the Democratic incumbent, gets the chance to reassure voters that, at 81, he’s capable of guiding the U.S. through a range of challenges. The 78-year-old Trump, meanwhile, 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.

Biden and Trump enter the night facing fierce headwinds, including a public weary of the tumult of partisan politics. Both candidates are disliked by majorities of Americans, according to polling, and offer sharply different visions on virtually every core issue. Trump has promised sweeping plans to remake the U.S. government if he returns to the White House and Biden argues that his opponent would pose an existential threat to the nation’s democracy.

With just over four months until Election Day, their performances have the rare potential to alter the trajectory of the race. Every word and gesture will be parsed not just for what both men say but how they interact with each other and how they hold up under pressure.

“Debates tend not to change voters’ perception in ways that change their vote: They ordinarily reinforce, not persuade,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on presidential communications. “What makes this debate different is that you have in essence two incumbents about whom voters have very well-formed views. But that doesn’t mean that those perceptions are right or match what voters will see on stage.”

The debate makes a series of firsts

Trump and Biden haven’t been on the same stage or even spoken since their last debate weeks before the 2020 presidential election. Trump skipped Biden’s inauguration after leading an unprecedented and unsuccessful effort to overturn his loss to Biden that culminated in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection by his

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