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The Great Debate is here!

5. Can Trump expand the map?:

President Donald Trump travels to Duluth, Minnesota, on Wednesday as he desperately tries to find a place Hillary Clinton won in 2016 that he can flip on November 3.

A new poll released Sunday and conducted for Minnesota Public Radio, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and KARE-11 suggests that will be an uphill climb, with Joe Biden at 48% to 42% for the incumbent. That poll is consistent with the broader data in the race; there has yet to be a general election poll released in the state that has Trump ahead.
But Trump and his team clearly see something in Minnesota, which he came within 1.5 percentage points of winning in 2016. Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump, the President's eldest daughter, were in the state last week for a "Cops for Trump" rally, and Trump himself was in Bemidji, Minnesota, on September 18.

For Trump, making Minnesota (and its 10 electoral votes) competitive is almost a necessity, given his struggles in states he carried in 2016 like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and Florida.

4. How many more Trump defectors?:

 It's normal, every four years, for one or two Democrats to endorse the Republican president (Zell Miller and George W. Bush in 2004, for example) and vice versa.

What is unprecedented is not only the number of Republicans who have crossed party lines to back Biden over Trump, but also how senior these officials are.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge joined the crossover ranks on Sunday, with an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer announcing his plan to vote for Biden.

"He lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect and maturity to lead," Ridge wrote of Trump. 

Ridge joins fellow Bush cabinet secretaries Christine Todd Whitman (EPA) and Colin Powell (State) as Biden endorses. Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, and Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska Republican senator, both of whom served in the Obama cabinet, have also backed Biden.

Are there more defections to come? Who? When? And while it won't change the minds of the hardcore Trumpers within the GOP, does the avalanche of senior officials siding with Biden impact any swing voters?

3. The ACB fight begins:

The drama is, largely, over in the fight to confirm Trump Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. She will, barring some sort of major catastrophe during her confirmation hearing (or revelation) be confirmed with at least 50 Republican votes.

But that doesn't mean the stakes aren't still high -- particularly for the senators asking the questions. And the questioners (aka members of the Senate Judiciary Committee) include the likes of vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Moments like these hearings are watched extremely closely by donors and activists -- and can position a senator for future bids for either leadership positions or national office.

Klobuchar, for example, stood out during Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation for her personal testimonial about her father's battle with alcoholism.  

Every senator -- Republican or Democrat -- wants to have that moment, and will begin positioning themselves to be a major player in the confirmation fight.

2. How Biden wins the debate:

The former vice president is in the driver's seat in the race right now. But a poor debate performance would still be a problem.

Which is definitely a possibility for Biden. As he has shown throughout his career -- and in the primary process in 2020 -- Biden can be a very middling debater. He does, however, fare better in one-on-one settings than in eight- to 10-person Royal Rumbles. (It's a wrestling reference, people.)

Biden tends to struggle to think as quickly on his feet as these debates reward and occasionally heeds the time rules a little too closely -- interrupting himself in the middle of a thought.

The key for Biden is to avoid being dragged into the ditches that Trump will try to drive it toward. Biden needs simply to stay on message: Which primarily will be about how Trump has handled (or not handled) the coronavirus.

1. How Trump wins the debate:

Trump needs to win the debate in order to change the working dynamic of the race. Two new polls released Sunday -- one from The New York Times/Siena College and one from The Washington Post/ABC News-- show him behind by 8 and 10 points, respectively. 

Trump's debate MO is simple -- he will throw anything and everything at the former vice president. Trump wins if any of it -- and, again, there will a lot -- throws Biden off or rattles him.

Trump has already signaled his plans to make an issue of Biden's son Hunter, and his seat on the board of Burisma Holdings. ("Where's Hunter," is Trump's constant refrain). He also will veer into wild conspiracy theories. "I will be strongly demanding a Drug Test of Sleepy Joe Biden prior to, or after, the Debate on Tuesday night," Trump tweeted Sunday morning. 

He will also interrupt, bully and cajole -- both Biden and the moderators -- simply to attempt to dominate the stage and look "presidential." And judging from his 2016 debates against Hillary Clinton, Trump will also declare himself the winner -- no matter what happens. 

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