Trump and Biden prepare for second debate clash while the moderator prepares the mute button

  • Video report by ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore

It's prime time in Music City. The stage lights are burning bright, the cameras are rolling, the audience is holding its breath, the anticipation is immense.

This town has seen many great acts and countless remarkable performances. 

But nothing quite like the one we will witness on Thursday.

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Nashville is ready for a totally different sound tonight - instead of music, we will hear furious insults, barbed exchanges, and desperate last-minute political pitches.

The final set-piece event of this surreal election campaign will occur in just a few hours.

It's the third presidential debate - well, technically the second, given the middle one was cancelled.

ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore dissects what could be on the agenda for the debate

So now we wait to see if the clash will replicate the chaos of the Cleveland debate or if Donald Trump will adopt a different strategy.

There is one significant change since that first encounter.  

The NBC moderator, Kristen Welker, has a weapon at her disposal never needed at previous debates: a mute button.  

Trump and Biden clashed on coronavirus and domestic policy during their first presidential debate in September. Credit: AP

She has the ability to cut the audio of any candidate who doesn't follow the rules.

Donald Trump made 127 interruptions at the last debate, so that mute button could see a lot of action over the 90 minutes.

The last debate became a torrid affair:

But one point is shared by all strategists: Donald Trump must win this debate decisively if he has any chance of securing re-election.  

The polls show him down by significant amounts, certainly beyond the margin of error.

In key battleground Midwestern states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania Joe Biden is ahead and holding steady.

More ominous for Republicans, Biden has drawn level in Georgia and Iowa, and is close in Texas.  

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP

If Democrats win in these states, a Biden victory will become a landslide.

The Biden safety-first strategy has paid rich dividends.  

The candidate known for his gaffes and his meandering anecdotes has barely put a foot wrong.  

Democratic advisers have encouraged him to keep a low-profile and to use the coronavirus pandemic as the explanation for staying largely out of sight.

The stage is set in Nashville for the second presidential debate. Credit: AP

But on Thursday night that has to change.

There is no hiding in Nashville.

Biden must survive a 90-minute barrage without a blunder.  

He must maintain his cool.  

He cannot afford to take Trump's bait about his son Hunter's connections to Ukraine.

If Biden draws, he wins.  And if he wins on Thursday night, he seems destined to be - at the grand old age of 78 - America's 46th President.