(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden and challenger Donald Trump face the same problem in their first debate: How to sway voters in a tight race where most Americans say they’ve already made up their minds.

The candidates are already at work, conferring with close advisers before the first face-to-face showdown of 2024 on June 27 in Atlanta. That forum offers a high-stakes opportunity to break through the deadlock, but with clear perils on a stage where one-liners or zingers may prove ineffective but where any gaffe or misstep threatens to be politically fatal.

The president brought debate briefing books with him on his recent trip to France, according to people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to detail the preparations. 

Biden’s team has blocked off an extended stretch at Camp David starting Wednesday to work on his debate preparation, which former chief of staff Ron Klain will lead, according to the people. Klain declined to comment.

Biden will also be joined by trusted political aides, including Anita Dunn, Mike Donilon, Cedric Richmond, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Steve Ricchetti and deputy chief of staff Bruce Reed.

It’s unclear if the team will hold mock debates, as they did in 2020 when Biden’s personal lawyer, Bob Bauer, played the role of Trump and relentlessly went after the nominee to prepare him for an expected onslaught of personal attacks.

“In the month leading up to that first debate, the Biden-Harris campaign will zero in on Trump’s dangerous campaign promises and unhinged rhetoric,” Jen O’Malley Dillon, one of Biden’s top campaign aides wrote in a memo in late May. “We will make sure that the voters who will decide this election are reminded of the chaos and harm Trump caused as president.”

Inner Circle

Trump’s prep is similarly being run by a tiny circle of aides, including Susie Wiles, Chris LaCivita and Jason Miller as well as policy aides and speechwriters Vince Haley and Russ Worthington. Kellyanne Conway, a former top White House official, is also helping Trump. The former president has always disdained formal preparation and mock debates, allies say, preferring to informally workshop answers and retorts with aides.

Two prominent figures who helped Trump in 2020 are missing, Rudy Giuliani, who handled much of that prep from the White House during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Giuliani is facing his own legal and financial challenges over efforts to undo the 2020 election result, while Christie broke with Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. 

Miller said Trump’s debate prep comes naturally from his many media appearances and rallies.

“President Trump takes on numerous tough interviews every single week and delivers lengthy rally speeches while standing, demonstrating elite stamina,” Miller said in a statement. “He does not need to be programmed by staff.”

Debate Strategy

The first of two debates between the two candidates in 2020 was a chaotic affair, with Trump interrupting Biden repeatedly, leading the Democratic nominee to respond “will you shut up” and the Republican growing visibly angry at criticisms of his handling of the pandemic. During their second debate, microphones were muted so candidates could be cut off. Trump, who appeared ill at the first debate, would announce shortly afterward that he had tested positive for Covid.

The logistics of the upcoming debate may play more to Biden’s strengths. There will not be a live audience, something Trump draws energy from and moderators have the ability to cut off both microphones, so the former president cannot keep talking over Biden. 

Biden aides are determined to use the debate to contrast the candidates on temperament and policies, a person familiar with their planning said. A key part of that strategy is to give Trump ample opportunities to make angry or outlandish comments, the person said.

One Trump ally said they told the presumptive Republican nominee’s team to encourage him to remain as low-key as possible and give Biden space to make verbal gaffes as the president is prone to do. Biden, 81, is the oldest president in American history and voters have expressed concern over his fitness to serve another four years. Trump, who turned 78 on Friday, also has a propensity to misspeak.

One Democrat said the candidate who speaks the least will probably win the debate by giving their opponent time and space for a mistake.

Economy, Immigration

Trump is expected to hit Biden on immigration and the economy, people say, seizing on two of the president’s biggest political vulnerabilities. Polls show voters consider the migrant surge on the US-Mexico border a defining issue and rate Biden’s handling of the economy poorly as persistently high inflation has hammered American households.

And Trump will target Biden on foreign policy, according to people familiar, citing the disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan and his handling of the Israel-Hamas war, which has inflamed divisions within the Democratic Party.

Biden is expected to attack Trump over his role in reversing federal protections for abortion as well as remarks criticizing NATO allies and praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the people, part of a broad strategy to cast the Republican as a danger to democracy at home and abroad. 

For both, the debate stage will be one of their best opportunities to reach voters before November. The first debate in 2020 had 73.1 million viewers, with the second debate drawing 63 million. 

The candidates have agreed to participate in a second debate on Sept. 10. That clash will take place after Trump’s sentencing hearing on July 11 for his hush-money trial conviction and after both parties have held their conventions. 

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