- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2024

President Biden, whose low polling numbers have put Democratic supporters and his campaign team in panic mode, took charge of the debate schedule on Wednesday by publicly challenging former President Donald Trump to meet him at CNN’s Atlanta studio for a televised debate in June.

Mr. Trump, leading in a string of battleground state polls, had been goading a politically weakened Mr. Biden to agree to a debate “anytime, anywhere, anyplace.”

The Republican candidate quickly accepted the CNN invitation and agreed to Mr. Biden’s proposed second debate in September, which ABC News will moderate.

For the Biden campaign team, the move ends speculation about whether the president will opt out of an onstage rumble with Mr. Trump and leave voters without the traditional faceoff between the Republican and Democratic candidates.

Democrats hope the debate plans put to rest politically damaging speculation that Mr. Biden, 81, is not up for the rigors of a televised, live clash with Mr. Trump after well-documented stumbles and difficulties communicating clearly.

Until Tuesday, the Biden campaign team had refused to commit to a debate with Mr. Trump, although Mr. Biden told the “Howard Stern Show” in April that he would be “happy” to debate.

SEE ALSO: Nancy Pelosi ‘would never recommend’ Biden debate Trump

Democratic Party strategist Hank Sheinkopf said that by challenging Mr. Trump to the two debates, Mr. Biden showed voters he was not afraid of debating the former president.

“He’s got to show strength. He’s got to show he’s in charge,” Mr. Sheinkopf said.

Democrats have begun to panic as Mr. Trump maintains a consistent lead over Mr. Biden in many of the battleground states, even while his Manhattan criminal trial dominates the news and has sidelined him from the campaign trail.

Voters appear to be shrugging off three other criminal cases Mr. Trump faces in Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia. Polls show they remain discontent with the sitting president despite tens of millions of dollars in Biden campaign advertising intended to boost his image in battleground states.

New York Times/Siena polling released this week found Mr. Trump leading Mr. Biden in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Michigan.

“He needs the debates more than Trump does because, whether true or not, many Americans believe or have been led to believe Biden’s capacity is diminishing,” University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato said. “Of course, many think the very same thing about Trump.”

Political strategists say Mr. Biden’s poll numbers make it far too risky for him to avoid debating Mr. Trump.

“Biden has no choice,” Mr. Sheinkopf said.

In a pre-recorded video released on social media, Mr. Biden portrayed Mr. Trump as the one shrinking from the debate stage after he “lost two debates” to him in 2020 and dodged all Republican primary debates.

“Now he’s acting like he wants to debate me again,” Mr. Biden said in the video. “Well, make my day, pal.”

The Trump campaign team wants to double the schedule to four debates, one each in June, July, August and September.

Shortly after accepting the CNN and ABC News debates, Mr. Trump agreed to a third debate hosted by Fox News on Oct. 2. The Biden campaign team rejected it in a statement Wednesday that accused Mr. Trump of “playing games with debates.”

As the schedule stands, Mr. Trump will face off with Mr. Biden in territory that many conservatives believe will be far more favorable to Mr. Biden.

The candidates will have no live audience, and microphones will be muted like the 2020 presidential debates to prevent the two candidates from talking over each other. Conservatives consider ABC and CNN to be more favorable to Democratic candidates.

The Biden campaign excluded Fox News from the media outlets eligible to moderate the debates.

Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., considered a greater draw for Biden voters, will be excluded from the debate stage.

Charlie Kirk, CEO of the pro-Trump grassroots group Turning Point USA, said Mr. Biden “is trying to make it look like he’s not afraid to debate Trump [and] knows he needs to make some waves to stop his recent slide.”

Mr. Kirk called Mr. Biden’s terms “cowardly.”

Democrats believe Mr. Biden has seized the upper hand.

Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic Party strategist based in South Carolina, called Mr. Biden’s debate challenge to Mr. Trump “masterful.” He said the Biden campaign team “decided to make certain that the American people have an early opportunity to see the contrast between the candidates with parameters so that a healthy discussion takes place.”

Both candidates ditched the debates scheduled by the nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates, which has historically set the terms, dates, locations and moderators. The commission had slated the first of three debates for Sept. 16.

Mr. Sabato said holding a presidential debate at the historically early June 27 date aligns with new state laws that stretch voting for weeks before Election Day on Nov. 5.

“Our system of voting has changed substantially, mainly because of COVID,” Mr. Sabato said. “Many Americans begin voting toward the end of September, and tens of millions vote in October. Why not show them the debates before they cast their ballot?”

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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