The expected size of the viewing audience is receiving media attention, with some projecting "Super Bowl-esque number potentials."
But what some analysts say viewers can expect to see during the 90 minutes is exactly the sort of substance-devoid event the League of Women Voters, which once administered the debates, warned of.
In fact, writes Richard Eskow, what viewers will see likely won't be an "issues-driven debate" at all but rather a "pageant." He says it's being marketed as "entertainment spectacle." But that "would be tragic—for the democratic process, and for the country."
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship similarly argued that the debate is set to be "fraudulent nonsense," and people should "announce that our democracy deserves better and change the rules."
So what, then, should debate moderator Lester Holt ask of the candidates?
Given that this is a time when "our democracy is narrowing," write Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, and Morris Pearl, chair of the board of the Patriotic Millionaires, Holt must "demand answers to the most fundamental American question: Do you believe in the essential equality of each American and if so, what specifically are you going to do to ensure that each citizen has equal political power?"
Evidence of the poor state of American democracy abound, Morial and Pearl write, from voter ID laws to billionaire cash flowing to super PACs to widening economic inequality.
Debate questions on such issues, they continue, would "reveal [the candidates'] underlying commitment to equality, and to democracy itself."
In an op-ed touching on similar issues, Ann Ravel, past chair and current Commissioner of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), argues that debate viewers should hear answers to the questions: "How will either candidate promote civic engagement? What policies will they support to reduce barriers to participation and empower voters?"
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Others say the debates should tackle major issues women are directly facing, such as equal pay, reproductive rights, food insecurity, and child care costs.
In their letter (pdf) to Holt, women's rights group UltraViolet writes, "With the nomination of the first woman to a major party ticket and the unprecedented role of sexism in a presidential race, we strongly urge you to end the media's poor coverage of these issues as you moderate the first of these debates. As you know, women's votes are decisive in elections."
“From equal pay, to abortion access, to basic protections for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault," stated UltraViolet co-founder Nita Chaudhary, "the media has consistently dropped the ball on issues important to women voters. It's time to stop ignoring these critical topics. The moderators of the 2016 presidential debates need to listen to women and ask the tough questions that matter to more than half of America's electorate."
Outside the debate forum, members of the Fight for $15 movement will highlight their cause, with workers from Albany to New York City and beyond set to walk off their jobs Monday and hold a march outside Hofstra University, site of the debate, according to a press statement from organizers.
The low-paid workers want to ensure, said Alvin Major, a Kentucky Fried Chicken worker from New York City who is paid $10.50 an hour, "that, as Election Day nears, candidates know that if they want our vote, they need to come get it."
And with the hottest summer on record having just ended, the issue of climate change—totally left out of the 2012 presidential debates—stands out. It "also figured prominently in recent polls by the Washington Post and New York Times regarding questions the readers would like to ask the candidates," as EcoWatch writes.
Noting the Paris climate agreement, Obama's Clean Power Plan, and the threat climate change poses to national security, Greg Sargent writes at the Washington Post that "a confluence of new circumstances makes it substantially more pressing that the debate moderators and the candidates do discuss these issues this time around."
Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard said Monday that it's "vital" Holt ask Clinton and Trump questions about climate change because "people all over this country are already dealing with the impacts of climate change, and so during the first presidential debate of 2016, Americans deserve to hear what our two presidential candidates plan to do about it."
The debate begins at 9pm ET.