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WASHINGTON (AFP) – The lengthy US presidential campaign is careening towards a 90-minute Monday showdown, with Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump squaring off in their first televised debate as they sit nearly neck and neck in the polls.
The event, which is expected to be watched – and parsed – by tens of millions of Americans, could draw a record number of viewers when it kicks off at 9:00 pm (0100 GMT Tuesday).
Many Americans are uncertain what to expect from the clash, which pits two vastly different candidates against each other on one tiny stage.
Clinton, 68, enters the fray as a polished former secretary of state, who after almost 40 years of public service is very well versed on the issues.
Trump, a 70-year-old billionaire and former reality TV star, is good on his feet, and unpredictable – more comfortable in the limelight than on issues.
As many as 90 million people are expected to tune in as the pair face off at Hofstra University in New York six weeks before the November 8 election.
The debate is being held one day after a Washington Post-ABC News poll revealed that Clinton’s slim advantage over Trump from last month has evaporated.
She is tied with Trump at 41 percent among registered voters, with Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson at seven percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein at two percent, according to the poll.
In a two-way match-up, Trump and Clinton were even at 46 percent of registered voters. The survey showed a statistical tie among likely voters as well.
Many analysts say debates usually don’t win candidates the election but can well lose it for them. A single sentence or the slightest slip can do serious damage.
“I think this thing will be close right up until the end,” said Clinton running mate Tim Kaine. “We have to make our case every day. The debates are a great way to do that.”