First Presidential Debate

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, a registered Democrat, will moderate the first debate.

NOTE: Questions below include specific questions on the debate (link to PDF worksheet.)

(Compiled from Cleveland’s 19News and Investopedia) – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine will be sending the Ohio National Guard to Cleveland for the presidential debate on Sept. 29.

DeWine made the announcement at his Thursday news conference, saying he had received a formal request from Cleveland officials Wednesday evening.

Around 300 members will be sent to the city to “ensure a safe and secure environment for those attending Tuesday’s presidential debate in Cleveland.”

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden’s first debate will be held at The Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic.  The debate is scheduled from 9-10:30 p.m. ET

The moderator for this first debate will be Fox news anchor Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday (who moderated the final 2016 presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton). Wallace is a registered Democrat and is seen by Trump supporters as having a strong dislike for Donald Trump, especially after a July interview. Former VP Biden has declined requests for interviews with Wallace over the past six months.

Mr. Wallace selected the topics for the debate, which were announced a week prior, and also created the questions, which will not be shared with either candidate ahead of time.

According to the CPD, this debate (and the third and final presidential debate) will be divided into six 15-minute long segments. Each segment will open with a question and each candidate will get two minutes to respond. Candidates will then be able to respond to each other with Wallace using the rest of the time for a deeper discussion of the topic.

Wallace released the topics on September 22. They include in no particular order:

  • The Trump and Biden Records
  • The Supreme Court
  • Covid-19
  • The Economy
  • Race and Violence in our Cities
  • The Integrity of the Election

Compiled from articles at Cleveland’s 19News and Investopedia. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission.


NOTE: Read the “Background” below before answering the questions

1. a) Why is the Ohio governor sending the Ohio National Guard to Cleveland on September 29th?
b) How many National Guard members the governor sending?
c) Why do you think officials believe this is necessary? Explain your answer. (If you’re not sure, ask a parent his/her opinion.)

2. List the dates, times, places, moderators and formats for each debate.

3. a) What is the format for this first debate?
b) Who chooses the topics and questions? When will they be announced?

4. List the topic(s) for the first presidential debate.

5. Fox News’ Chris Wallace is the moderator for this debate.

  • On March 2, 2020, concluding an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Joe Biden confused what show he was on, telling him at the end of the interview, “alright, Chuck, thank you.” Wallace appeared annoyed and corrected Biden. Biden has since declined to be interviewed by Wallace.
  • President Trump sat down for an hourlong interview with Chris Wallace in July. Wallace refuted several statements Trump made about various topics. Wallace was described by the media as “a straight shooter” and a “skillful” interviewer and was complimented for “fact-checking the president’s answers in real time.”

Why do you think Trump supporters do not like the choice of this Fox News anchor as debate moderator?

6. Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates are not invited to participate in the 2020 presidential debates because they did not meet the requirements necessary to qualify:   In 2000, the Commission on Presidential Debates established a rule that for a candidate to be included in the national debates he or she must garner at least 15% support across five national polls.  Wikipedia writes: This rule has been controversial as it has effectively excluded U.S. parties other than the two major parties.
(The only 3rd party candidate allowed to participate in a presidential debate was Ross Perot in 1992. He wound up winning 18.9% of the presidential election vote.)

What do you think about the Commission’s rule that a candidate must have 15% in at least 5 national polls to participate in the debates? Is this fair? Or what should the percentage be? What if a candidate earns 1% in national polls? Does that candidate’s participation add to, or take away from, the benefit of the debate? Explain your answers.


1. List a question asked by moderator Chris Wallace on each of the six topics he chose:

  • The Trump and Biden Records
  • The Supreme Court
  • COVID-19
  • The Economy
  • Race and Violence in our Cities
  • The Integrity of the Election

2. For which question(s) did one or both candidates not give a direct answer, or not clearly answer the question?

3. A debate moderator’s role is to act as a neutral participant, to hold participants to time limits and to try to keep them from straying off the topic of the questions being raised in the debate. Do you think Chris Wallace fulfilled this role? Explain your answer.

4. Do you think the questions chosen by the moderator helped viewers understand the candidates’ positions on the issues? Explain your answer.

5. Do you think the moderator’s questions were fair to each candidate? Explain your answer.

After filling out the worksheet, answer the following:
6. a) What do you think was President Trump’s best or worst line? Explain your answer.
b) What do you think was Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s best or worst line? Explain your answer.


From StudentNewsDaily’s Presidential Election page:

The Commission on Presidential Debates was established in 1987 under the joint sponsorship of the Democratic and Republican parties. It has sponsored all presidential and vice presidential general election debates since 1988. It sets the format/structure of each debate.

Interesting to note about the 2020 debates:

  • Unlike in years past, there is only one moderator in each debate, as the Commission on Presidential Debates, which says it is non-partisan, thinks that the Covid-19 pandemic necessitates having as few people onstage as possible.
  • The Trump campaign suggested moderators that included a number of Fox News hosts and conservative commentators. In response, the Commission said it would take “great care, as always, to ensure that the selected moderators are qualified and fair.” None of the campaign’s suggestions were invited to moderate.
  • Trump’s campaign also unsuccessfully lobbied for an additional debate, arguing there needed to be one earlier in September because the expansion of voting by mail means ballots could be decided earlier.  The Commission rejected that idea, noting the “difference between ballots having been issued by a state and those ballots having been cast by voters, who are under no compulsion to return their ballots before the debates.”
  • It is not known what the audience will look like for these debates, whether there will even be one, or even whether the candidates will appear virtually or together onstage.  The Trump campaign requested that both candidates appear onstage together. The Commission did not respond to that request, saying only that it will follow all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and that it has retained Cleveland Clinic as a health security adviser for the debates.

Presidential debate schedule:

  • September 29, 2020, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET,  Cleveland Ohio, Case Western Reserve University.
    Moderator: Chris Wallace, Fox News. (Wallace is a registered Democrat and is seen to have a strong dislike of Donald Trump.)  The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. It will be divided into six 15-minute segments that the moderator gets to choose and is expected to announce at least a week before the debate.
  • October 15, 2020, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET,  Miami Florida, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
    Moderator: Steve Scully, C-SPAN.  The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. This debate will be a town hall format, where people who live in the Miami area can pose questions.
  • October 22, 2020, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET, Nashville, TN, Belmont University.
    Moderator: Kristen Welker, NBC. The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. It will be divided into six 15-minute segments that the moderator gets to choose and is expected to announce at least a week before the debate.

Vice presidential debate:

  • October 7, 2020, University of Utah. Moderator: Susan Page, USA Today. The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. It will be divided into nine segments of 10 minutes each.
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