The Jolt: Which Joe Biden, and which Donald Trump, will show up at this first debate?

And so we are come to the first presidential debate between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

The 9 p.m. event, which will be carried by all networks and more, will be co-hosted by Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic, just down the street from where Trump accepted the GOP nomination four years ago.

Fox News' Chris Wallace will be the moderator. The six topics: The Trump and Biden records, the U.S. Supreme Court, the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, electoral integrity, and “race and violence in our cities.”

The phrasing of that last one has sparked some talk. We would add another topic: Income tax obligations.

Given that President Trump has purposely been a non-stop TV presence in our lives since the fall of 2016, most eyes will be on former vice president Biden. This Monday tweet from Ralph Reed, who has kept white Christian evangelicals behind Trump, stands out:

“If Biden doesn't pass out or fall [off] the stage in Cleveland tomorrow night in the first debate, the media will declare him the winner and proclaim that he vastly exceeded expectations. But they also claimed Hillary won."

But it is not the press that has set the bar so low. That was done by Trump himself, who has constantly referred to Biden as “Sleepy Joe” and even insinuated that Biden has been under the pharmaceutical influence of performing enhancement drugs.

Trump’s followers have been complicit. “Join @realDonaldTrump and me to demand a drug test for Sleepy @JoeBiden before tomorrow night’s debate,” U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler tweeted this morning.

It has never been his style, but strategically, Trump will be on the defensive. Over at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz has an assessment that includes this:

"In 2016, Donald Trump shocked the political world by pulling off a victory in the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote by more than two percentage points. The key to his victory was winning several large swing states including Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by very narrow margins.

“Based on recent polling data, however, Trump appears unlikely to duplicate his 2016 feat. He is currently trailing in every 2016 swing state, including Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, although the margin in Florida is very close. Meanwhile, he is being forced to invest time and money defending several states that he won easily in 2016. In contrast, Joe Biden appears to be comfortably ahead in every state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016."

On Monday, Ed Lee was handing out debate advice via Zoom. Lee, too, is an Emory U. academic – he’s the senior director of the Alben W. Barkley Forum for Debate, Deliberation, and Dialogue. The university’s debate coach, in other words.

Lee is past thinking of these events as rational exchanges of ideas aimed at a discerning public. “Our modern debates are about creating a spectacular moment – several spectacular moments,” he said.

The debate could hinge on which Donald Trump shows up tonight. If it is Trump the Culture Warrior, basking in his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, the evening could turn against him. The issue of abortion tends to send people to their corners.

But Trump the Populist is another matter. Lee would remind you that Trump had several of those “spectacular moments” in the 2016 debates. He brought out video of candidate Trump’s clash with Hillary Clinton over NAFTA, and a GOP primary confrontation with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush over the Iraq war.

And that New York Times report that Trump paid only $750 in income taxes during his first two years as president? That’s only relevant if Trump doesn’t address himself to “people that spend more time thinking about the grocery market than the stock market,” Lee said.

His bottom line: If we’re talking about bygone trade deals or the Middle East tomorrow morning, consider Trump the winner.

On the other hand, if we’re talking about the coronavirus, Biden will have won this first of three confrontations.

“He needs the substantive and almost the totality of this two-hour debate to be seen as being about the virus and the United States' response to it – and in fact, the lack of response to it,” Lee said.

Biden will also need to remind viewers at home that Trump is the president, not him – but that if he wins the White House, he’ll accept the responsibility that comes with it.

Remember also that we caught a glimpse of Biden earlier this month portraying himself as a son of Scranton, Pa., running against a New York son of privilege. If that Biden shows up, then Trump’s avoidance of federal income taxes is almost sure to be an issue.

“If we are talking about the number 750, then Biden will have won this debate,” Lee said.


The Savannah Morning News reports that the nearby city of Pooler has politely declined to host an absentee ballot box for the Nov. 3 election:

Pooler City Manager Robbie Byrd ultimately made the call. He said he consulted with Mayor Rebecca Benton and City Attorney Steven Scheer, and the three determined they were not willing to allow Pooler to take on the liability of the box nor the ballots inside the box, should either be damaged or tampered with while placed on city property.

“I don't want to be responsible, ultimately, for the absentee ballot box," Byrd said. “I feel certain there's going to be some issues countywide with them, and I don't want to be a part of it."


With cases and the percentage of people testing positive decreasing, President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force has moved Georgia out of the red zone category in its latest report.

The state had the 23rd highest rate of case growth from Sept. 19 to Sept. 25, according to Sunday’s report. Back in August, Georgia was at the very top in case growth.


Already posted: Former Gov. Nathan Deal has endorsed Doug Collins' bid for U.S. Senate, making him the most prominent state Republican to support the four-term congressman’s challenge to U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a nasty fight that has divided the Georgia GOP.

Consider it a continuation of the 2018 race for governor, in which Deal gave his last-minute endorsement to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle during his GOP primary runoff with Brian Kemp.

This rift within the party is real – and could linger for years. Over the weekend, state Rep. David Clark, R-Buford, posted a scathing attack on Collins on his Facebook page. A single passage:

When you look past Collins performance of screaming political rhetoric about how he is “Trumps BIGGEST defender" and the 5 minutes of fame he received for giving a few great lines during President Trump's impeachment, you just get an empty suit who's voting record, pastor and chaplain service, and political ties are full of hypocrisy.

Those aren’t words you can walk back on Nov. 4.


Just how much money is being unloaded on the airwaves now? Media guru Rick Dent offered the latest tally of the Senate races for this week:

Senate Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock bought about $1 million worth of ads starting Tuesday, while U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler is spending $840,000 on TV ads over a similar span. Spending by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins is around $36,000.

In Georgia’s other U.S. Senate race, Democrat Jon Ossoff snapped up about $1 million for his race and Sen. David Perdue is around $940,000.

Then there’s the Senate Leadership Fund, which backs GOP incumbents, which is overwhelming them all with a $4 million ad buy for the week alone. The Mitch McConnell-aligned group has ad buys of roughly $4 million over the next month, mostly backing Perdue.


On a ground game note, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s campaign says it hit a milestone over the weekend by reaching 1 million phone calls in support of her November special election bid.


Our AJC colleague Eric Stirgus has a piece on a cloud of racial discrimination hovering over the University of Georgia:

At UGA, the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity suspended operations about a week ago after racially charged and sexist messages reportedly posted by members online were exposed by the Black female student who was the subject of the messages. A few days later, former UGA football player Otis Reese posted a lengthy message on Twitter accusing the school of maintaining a racially insensitive and unsupportive environment.

On Friday, UGA's student affairs office sent a letter to the university's Hispanic Student Association apologizing for a Sept. 3 incident when the group said its meeting was interrupted by some white men who yelled expletives, showed offensive images and mocked the Spanish language.

On Friday, about 200 protesters marched on and around the campus demanding continuous diversity training for campus police, renaming buildings whose names have racist origins and other actions. The University System of Georgia in June created a task force to review building names at all of its public colleges and universities.


Bringing out the big guns: U.S. Sen. Cory Booker is hosting a fundraiser for state Senate candidate Sonya Halpern, one of several Democrats competing for the Atlanta-based seat vacated by Nikema Williams.

The minimum contribution for the event is $1,000 -- the sort of money you’re more likely to see for a statewide race, not a legislative election.


If you live in the Fifth District, you have the opportunity to vote today for one of seven candidates who want to finish out the 2018-20 term of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis. Given that a Dec. 1 runoff is likely, that would be from Dec. 2 to Jan. 3.

Turnout so far has been low, with candidates complaining of issues at early voting locations and constituents confused by the dual contests in the district. Seven candidates are competing in a contest separate from the November general election for a full two-year term that features two different candidates, most prominently Democratic party chairwoman Nikema Williams.

Several of the candidates on today’s ballot applied to be the November nominee, but were passed over and remain angry about the process to replace Lewis. Georgia law gave state Democratic Party officials the choice to leave Lewis' name on the ballot or replace it after Lewis died in early July.

After receiving 131 applications, the party chose Williams under a tight deadline.

“It was not a fair process,” said State Rep. “Abel” Mabel Thomas. “How are you going to beat the head of the party?”

Former state Rep. Keisha Sean Waites also applied. “The fact that five people made that decision for 795,000 voters-- I think the Democratic party needs to evaluate how they do business,” Waites said. “We beat on Republicans for this very behavior.”

Even Chase Oliver, the Libertarian in the race who could not have applied to be the Democratic nominee, said he feels his fellow candidates' pain. “From an outside party perspective, I can totally understand the frustration of not having their voices heard,” he said.

The irony of the convoluted process is that Lewis felt the same frustrations as he began his own congressional career. Longtime Georgians will remember that Lewis ran for the Fifth District twice- once in 1977, when he lost to former Sen. Wyche Fowler, and again in 1986, when he ran and won against Julian Bond.

In his autobiography Walking with the Wind, Lewis described feeling like the Democratic establishment wanted Bond, the tall, handsome fellow civil rights champion, to fill the seat instead of Lewis.

“I had long resented the accepted tradition in the city of Atlanta of a select few leaders, black and white, hand-picking and determining who went to Washington,” he wrote. “I didn’t like the idea of someone being anointed.” Lewis, of course, won the race.


Democrats in the U.S. House have unveiled a revised and scaled down version of their coronavirus relief bill, but there are no guarantees a deal can be reached with Republicans before Congress goes into recess for the election. Politico gives us a rundown of the updated HEROES Act:

The package is essentially a scaled back version of the House's sweeping bill passed in May, which Republicans have already rejected. It includes nearly a half-trillion dollars to shore up state and local governments, as well as a second round of stimulus checks to most Americans. It also restarts the extra $600-per-week in federal unemployment benefits, which expired in late July.

The Democratic bill includes some new money for airlines and restaurants, two industries that have faced dramatic financial losses since the House's last package this spring.