As summer ends, the season of battle begins.
Labor Day typically marks the point when campaign season begins in earnest. Now the countdown has begun to the first 2016 presidential debate, scheduled Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
With 64 days to the election, Real Clear Politics calculates Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by an average of four percentage points in the most recent national head-to-head polls. That means when they meet on the debate stage, the Democrat will likely be playing defense.
The conventional wisdom about debates is the frontrunner usually has more to lose. If Trump blows it, he's already losing. On the other hand, Clinton has to avoid a mistake. If she stumbles and Trump looks strong, then the margin could narrow.
"I think I'm preparing somewhat like I prepared for the other debate," Trump told reporters Monday during a brief availability on his campaign jet. "I think I'm preparing, you know I enjoy the debating process. I did, obviously, I did well in the debates."
"The debates will determine this," ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd offered on Good Morning America. "Hillary Clinton could either put Donald Trump away or Donald Trump could get right back in this race, overcome this lid he seems to have at 40 or 41 percent, and that could change the entire dynamic of this."
Campaign ads give an idea where the attacks will come from. Clinton's camp has preferred to let Trump do the talking, banking on his lack of discipline and reckless rhetoric.
"They have two huge liabilities that I think the debate is crucial for each of them," said Dowd. "Donald Trump has to prove that he's presidential and doesn't make the country feel insecure in some of the manner in which he relates to them, and Hillary Clinton... has to solve this trust problem that she has that continues to weigh her down."
In addition to concerns over e-mails and the Clinton Foundation, the former secretary of state will face criticism for not holding press conferences. Clinton attempted to break the ice with media Monday on the back of her new campaign plane.
"I hope you guys are ready," Clinton joked with the traveling press.
The first debate will be followed by another debate set for Oct. 9, and a third Oct. 19.
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