This article was originally published for the National Journal on June 24, 2024.

You’d have to have spent the last six months cave diving or hiking the Appalachian Trail not to be aware of the presidential debate coming up on Thursday night. Some say it’s crazy to have a presidential general-election debate in late June, a full three months before debate season traditionally kicks off. Prior to this year, the earliest debate occurred on Sept. 21, during the Carter-Reagan race in 1980.

In reality, however, almost 70 percent of ballots in 2020 were cast before Election Day. Many states now accept them as early as the third week of September, before debates typically get underway.

This race is very close, not surprising given how evenly divided the two major political parties are and how narrowly divided this electorate is. Obviously in such close races, the trailing candidate is within striking distance of the one in the lead.

It is true that debates rarely change the trajectory of presidential races. Despite all the hype and mindless talk of raising or lowering

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