Mark Meredith, National Correspondent – HEMPSTEAD, NY (MEDIA GENERAL) – After a campaign that's stretched on for more than a year, tonight voters will for the first time hear from the major party's nominees on the same stage.
The first televised Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is scheduled to begin at 9p.m. EDT and last approximately 90 minutes.
The stakes couldn't be higher for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton who will need a breakthrough moment if they hope to find a surge in the polls. The latest data, including a poll released just hours before the first debate, showed the race was too close to call.
A survey of likely voters from Quinnipiac University gave Clinton a 1 point lead but that advantage is within the margin of error.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, the group that is organizing all four debates, has selected NBC News anchor Lester Holt as the moderator for tonight's event. The questions will be selected by Mr. Holt and as the only moderator, he'll have the option to press the candidates for follow-ups on topics.
Among the topics selected for tonight: "America's Direction, Achieving Prosperity, Securing America"
There will be six different segments for the debate and each is expected to last an estimated 15 minutes.
Behind the Scenes
The debate hall where most viewers will watch the debate is a carefully controlled and private event. Hofstra University, about 30 miles from New York City, is hosting the debate as well as several thousand journalists, security personnel, and campaign aides. On Sunday night, the U.S. Secret Service shut down the majority of the space around the debate hall for security sweeps.
The audience for tonight's event is expected to remain quiet except for brief moments of applause in the beginning and end of the debate. Undecided and decided voters will have the chance to speak with the candidates directly during the second Presidential debate on October 9th in St. Louis.
For the latest in the Race for the White House and for a look at tonight's debate, follow @markpmeredith on Twitter