Cleveland on Tuesday will see US President Donald Trump and former vice-president Joe Biden go head to head for the first time on the same stage amid a bitterly acrimonious campaign in a dangerously divided United States.
The first of three presidential debates will be a challenge principally for Mr Biden. While he is consistently, if narrowly, leading in national polls, Mr Biden is pitching himself as the anti-Trump who will bring decency, compassion and unity back to America.
But he also faces accusations of being weak and uninspiring. He has staged far fewer in-person campaign events than Mr Trump. He also faces a president skilled in the arts of bludgeoning rivals and playing to the gallery of his own narrow but devoted base.
Mr Biden is likely to be the target of well-aimed barbs over the conduct of his son Hunter Biden, who is alleged to have benefited from his father being vice president.
The flip side is that expectations of Mr Biden are relatively low, so a passable performance will impress. Also, he comes into the debate on the heels of potentially damaging revelations in an apparently extensively researched New York Times article that Mr Trump has been paying startlingly low income tax on his family business empire. The President, while deflecting blame to China, is also vulnerable on his pandemic record. Last week America passed the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths.
Unlike President Trump, who considers his almost daily prickly exchanges with reporters as adequate training, Mr Biden has been preparing extensively for the debates. After Ohio, they will meet in Florida on Oct 15 and in Tennessee on Oct 22.
”President Trump will definitely try to throw the (former) vice-president a bunch of curveballs that are designed to get him off his game, Mr Jay Carney, who was Mr Biden's communications director and also White House press secretary under President Barack Obama, told Bloomberg News.
(Mr Biden) fully expects and is preparing for that and knows that taking that bait is not what he wants to do, Mr Carney said.
Earlier this month at a fund-raiser, Mr Biden said I hope I don't get baited into getting into a brawl with this guy.
It's going to be hard, because I predict he's going to be shouting, he added.
On Saturday, Biden told MSNBC He doesn't know how to debate the facts. He's not that smart. He doesn't know that many facts. He doesn't know much about foreign policy. He doesn't know much about domestic policy. He doesn't know much about the detail.”
In the average of national polls maintained by the political analysis website FiveThirty Eight, Mr Biden has a roughly seven point, 50.3 to 43.0 lead over Mr Trump. But six states - Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin and Ohio - are currently considered toss-ups, which is alarming for Mr Biden as it indicates that Mr Trump could repeat his 2016 triumph, in which he lost the popular vote but won a handful of key states to win the all-important Electoral College.