First Presidential Debate: Biden favourite to win but China will be the word on Trump's lips

Joe Biden and Donald Trump
The first TV debate usually has a big impact on the betting

Paul Krishnamurty analyses how the first debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump could play out and which of the Betfair odds look worth a bet...

"We know how Biden will play it. The working-class boy from Scranton, Pennsylvania. First in his family to go to college. Ally of the common man versus an inherited multi-millionaire."

At last, it is almost time for Joe Biden and Donald Trump to square up, head-to-head, in the first of three presidential TV debates. The venue is Cape Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio - a key swing state that is odds-on to vote Republican this year. For viewers in the UK, coverage starts at 2am on Wednesday morning.

Wide range of special bets available

Betfair Sportsbook are offering a market on who wins the debate, as settled by a snap CNN poll. Biden is 4/9 compared to 13/8 for Trump. While CNN is hardly the favourite channel of Trump and his supporters, the poll will be sampled like any other and representative.

There's also wide range of special markets, from the colour of the ties to whether they elbow bump at the start (a 5/2 chance). Most interesting, China is 4/7 to be mentioned more times than Russia. As with 4/9 for Biden to win the debate, I'm very much a favourite backer here. Trump will mention China at every conceivable opportunity.

If you have a live position on the Next President market, set your alarm. This could go wild.

In 2016, a substantial gamble on Clinton started within seconds of the debate starting, lasting several days.

How will contrasting styles play out?

I cannot emphasise the difference between their two styles. Trump's debate style is as predictable as his attitude towards journalists in press conferences. Loud, brash, unapologetic for failures, boasting about success. He will interrupt constantly, throw smears and nicknames at Biden. Lies and wild conspiracy theories will be fact-checked within minutes.

The recent Town Hall event offered a preview of Biden's style. He was emollient and polite with the audience, whether Republican or Democrat. He addressed the questioners by name, empaphised with their tragedy or struggle. He came across as a moderate, happy to reach out across the aisle. A throwback to a bygone era, perhaps.

Back in the day, this was the formula for winning elections. However after Trump's success - whether in beating Clinton or 17 Republicans following the most anarchic and abusive debates in history - it is far from clear that the old rules still apply.

Any Biden gaffes will be pounced upon

The single most important task for Biden is to avoid mis-speaking. Not easy, given he has a long history of doing so. Whereas it was easier to brush off in younger days, now it would play directly into Trump media's mantra that he has dementia. Any mistake will be instantly amplified.

Biden's opponents have long claimed he will be a pushover in debates. I disagree. He beat 14 Democrat rivals to the nomination. He was widely deemed to win the final two debates, especially against Bernie Sanders. There was a sense that he warmed to the task after years out of the game.

The dementia tag is unfair and he's generally pretty strong on the details. He has detailed, well-rehearsed plans, as those old-school politicians always do. However, he does have a damaging inclination to ramble and digress. Not a good look and perfect for short, viral clips. Ridiculing Biden's state of mind is probably Trump's best comeback route.

Biden to emphasise class dividing lines

Alternatively, Biden clears this very low bar, neutralises Trump's attacks and gets to define himself and the race. We know how he will play it. The working-class boy from Scranton, Pennsylvania. First in his family to go to college. Ally of the common man versus an inherited multi-millionaire who blew it all.

Biden just received a timely gift towards constructing that narrative with the New York Times exclusive revelations about Trump's tax returns. They show many years of zero or negligible taxes being paid, along with big losses. The challenger is certain to go for the jugular and tie in longstanding accusations about Trump's history of either business failures, defaulting creditors or other grifts that generally screw the little guy.

I'm sceptical that this story moves the needle, because it isn't really new, or as shocking as others that made no impact, such as the Woodward tapes. It does, however, somewhat neuter Trump's own plans to go after Hunter Biden's alleged corruption in Ukraine. I expect this will descend into a re-run of the 2016 debates with Clinton, where claim and counter-claim drown one another out.

Perhaps Biden will be more effective. His career was built on appealing to blue collar voters and unions. That was a major reason why Obama chose him for VP. They won states like Ohio twice by emphasising their record saving the car industry and positioning themselves on the side of the workers, as opposed to the billionaire class of Mitt Romney. In our podcast, I tip him to pull off a 15/82.9 upset.

The six topics under discussion

The six debate topics are as follows, in this order. Both candidates' respective records. The Supreme Court. Covid. Economy. Race and violence in cities. The integrity of the election.

The first is bound to be back and forth, claims and counter-claims, but an early opportunity for Biden to raise the tax issue and Trump's Covid mismanagement, then keep attacking those vulnerabilities throughout. The Covid section will surely be terrible for Trump as his approvals on the subject are dismal.

The Supreme Court is less clear. This is a good opportunity for Trump to appeal to some sceptical conservative-leaners who have switched over, by underlining his record appointing conservative judges across the Federal sphere.

Healthcare is a sweet spot for Biden

But Biden has a trump card of his own. Rather than engaging in a culture war or partisan fight, he'll hit the president hard for his record on healthcare and an imminent Supreme Court ruling that could remove Obamacare from those with pre-existing conditions. During the middle of a pandemic, that is smart strategy and note the Democrats made healthcare the centrepiece of their successful mid-term campaign.

Trump has an advantage on the economy in polls and he'll also relish discussing race and violence. Again though, it is far from clear these segments will play well for him. Biden will empathise with the losers from Trump's economy - that's been his tack forever.

Plus he will point out that the violence and division is occurring in Trump's America, and blame him for fanning the flames. Biden is sure to attack Trump's enabling of the white supremacist groups at the heart of the violence, and remind voters of him describing fascists in Charlottesville as 'very fine people'.

BLM White Nationalist Georgia 1280.jpg

Finally, we will get to the integrity of the election. Doubtless Biden and moderator Chris Matthews will press Trump to commit to accept the result and a peaceful transition of power. Something the president has steadfastly refused and doubled down on. Russian interference in 2016 and 2020, as confirmed by Trump's own FBI Director, is sure to come up. Biden will attack Trump's failure to stand up to Vladimir Putin.

I simply cannot see how this section plays well for Trump. It is true that scandals don't hurt him as they do others - hence why the taxes issue will probably amount to nothing. Blatant attempts at election rigging, at subverting democracy, may be different. It cuts across any ideological divide and the prospect of chaos in November must disturb US voters of all stripes. I expect these, surely abusive, exchanges to be the biggest takeaway.

Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.

2020 US Presidential Election: USA - Presidential Election 2020 (Next President)

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