Barring a huge surprise, Republican senators, who have 53 out of 100 votes in the upper house of Congress, are expected to confirm Barrett.
The TV debate could be a wildcard, with Trump needing to break through the 200,000 US coronavirus deaths, the long-lasting economic fallout and fatigue at the constant upheaval roiling his administration.
Unlike the fawning treatment he enjoys during his weekly call-ins to Fox News or the adoring atmosphere at rallies, he'll find himself facing a determined rival painting him as "toxic" for America.
Meanwhile, frontrunner Biden mainly needs to keep steady against a man who many call a master provocateur.
(Writer: Ben Sheppard)
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