Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are set to face off for the first time onstage Monday night in front of what's expected to be perhaps the largest television debate audience of all time — all at a moment when the presidential race is tighter than ever.
For 90 uninterrupted minutes on a stage in Hempstead, NY, the two candidates will debate issues of national security and the state of the American economy in a debate simulcast on multiple television networks, as well as social-media sites including Facebook and Twitter.
Monday's night's program is widely expected to eclipse the past debate record — 80 million tuned in to watch former President Jimmy Carter take on then-former California Gov. Ronald Reagan — and close in on the highest-rated television event of the year: the Super Bowl.
MORE: 15 notable debate moments
15 notable presidential debate moments in history
15 notable presidential debate moments in history
(Original Caption) San Francisco: Jimmy Carter (L) takes notes as Pres. Ford makes a point during the second of the presidential debates at the Palace of Fine Arts here.
Vice President Richard Nixon dabs at his chin and lip in Los Angeles on Oct. 13, 1960, during his televised debate with Sen. John F. Kennedy. Nixon was in a studio in Los Angeles, while Kennedy was in a studio in New York. This was the third in a series of debates between the two presidential candidates. (AP Photo)
Rick Perry stumbles when trying to name the three Federal Departments he would eliminate as president during the CNBC Michigan GOP Presidential Debate in Rochester, Michigan. (Photo by Ralf-Finn Hestoft/Corbis via Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS - OCTOBER 02: Democratic vice presidential candidate U.S. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (L) greet each other at the start of the vice presidential debate at the Field House of Washington University's Athletic Complex on October 2, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri. The highly anticipated showdown between the two vice-presidential candidates will be their only debate before the election. (Photo by Don Emmert-Pool/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, United States: US Vice-President Dick Cheney points during his face off with Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards at Case Western Reserve University 05 October, 2004 in Cleveland, Ohio. The vice-presidential debate is focusing on foreign and domestic policies. AFP PHOTO/Steve JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEVE JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
YEAR-2008 US Republican presidential candidate John McCain (R) and Democrat Barack Obama leave the table after the final presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on October 15, 2008. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
New York Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (L) stands on stage with rival Illinois Senator Barack Obama (C) and Republican presidential contender Arizona Senator John McCain (R) at the end of the ABC/Facebook New Hampshire debates in Manchester, 05 January 2008. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Omaha, Nebraska: Following their vice presidential debate, Senators Lloyd Bentsen (L) of Texas and Dan Quayle (R) of Indiana reach out to shake hands, October 5th.
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 07: Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (R) speaks during the debate with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) at the Town Hall Presidential Debate at Belmont University's Curb Event Center October 7, 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee. Tonight's debate is the second presidential debate of three, the only one being held in the town hall style with questions coming from audience members. (Photo by Anthony Jacobs/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis wipes his upper lip during the first presidential debate with his opponent U.S. Vice President George Bush in Winston-Salem, N.C., Sunday night, Sept. 25, 1988. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan)
CLEVELAND, United States: Gwen Ifill (C), moderator of the vice-presidential debate, faces US Vice-President Dick Cheney (L) and Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards 05 October, 2004 during the candidates only face-to-face debate in the 2004 White House race at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.The vice-presidential debate is focusing on foreign and domestic policies. AFP PHOTO/Jeff HAYNES (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 13: Vice presidential candidate James Stockdale, an independent candidate, speaks during the debate at Georgia Tech 13 October, 1992 in Atlanta, GA. Stockdale debated Vice President Dan Quayle and Senator Al Gore. (Photo credit should read J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Kansas City: Combo of President Reagan and his Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale in their final Presidential debate of the 1984 campaign in Kansas City.
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: Texas Gov. George W. Bush answers a question as Vice President Al Gore looks on during the third and final presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis. (Photo by Harry Hamburg/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
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It could hardly come at a more crucial time for either candidate. With a record number of voters expressing negative sentiments about both candidates, some observers argue that the candidate able to put voters' concerns at ease with a memorable line may be able to come out on top.
Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist and president of the Potomac Strategy Group, said that the debate will be won by the candidate who is able to best parlay barbs and address their own shortcomings issues head on.
"On a macro-level, it's going to be — does Trump address his weaknesses, does she address hers?" Mackowiak said. "Both of them are going to try to deflect away from their weaknesses on to the other person."
RELATED: Topics for the first 2016 presidential debate
'She's got to tell people what she wants to do'
For her part, Clinton has been preparing for the debate for months.
Hunkering down with top campaign officials, the former secretary of state has reviewed briefing books on Trump's past statements and business dealings and studied briefings on his psychology and the way he's reacted in past debates.
She also has reportedly prepared strategies to face off against either a subdued Trump attempting to legitimize himself to voters on the fence — or a ferocious and aggressive Trump who belittled and interrupted opponents onstage during Republican primary debates.
SEE ALSO: Clinton and Kaine on the trail since DNC
Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine on the trail since the DNC
Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine on the trail since the DNC
NEW YORK, NY- Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to journalists after meeting national security experts for a National Security Working Session at the New York Historical Society Library in Manhattan, New York on Friday September 9, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) greets actress Laverne Cox during he LGBT for Hillary Gala at Cipriani Club on September 9, 2016 in New York City. Hillary Clinton is attending fundraisers and in New York City. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WHITE PLAINS, NY - Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the Press Corp on the airport tarmac in front of her campaign plane before flying off on a day of campaigning in White Plains, New York on Thursday September 8, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, at the Baptist National Convention at Bartle Hall in Kansas City, Mo. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)
New York, NY - Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in a NBC/MSNBC/Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Commander in Chief Forum in midtown Manhattan in New York, New York on Wednesday September 7, 2016. Hosted by Today show co-anchor Matt Lauer. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has her picture taken with a supporter during a voter registration rally at the University of South Florida on September 6, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Florida. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 05: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally at Luke Easter Park on September 5, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Clinton is on a Labor Day campaign swing to Ohio and Iowa on a new campaign plane large enough to accommodate her traveling press corp. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 05: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets a supporter during a campaign rally at Luke Easter Park on September 5, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Clinton is kicking off a Labor Day campaign swing to Ohio and Iowa on a new campaign plane large enough to accommodate her traveling press corp. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, speaks at a campaign event during The American Legion National Convention at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Clinton told a veterans group that U.S. leadership is vital to the world and, drawing a contrast with Republican Donald Trump, said that means the White House is no place for a leader who insults allies or threatens to shrink from that role. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 30: Democratic nominee for Vice President Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., holds a campaign rally at the Boys & Girls Club in Lancaster, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight at 11:35 p.m. EDT and features a diverse lineup of guests that includes celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for Monday, August 22 included Presidential Nominee and former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and John Krasinski ('The Hollars'). (Photo by Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images)
HILLARY CLINTON, JIMMY KIMMEL
MANHATTAN, NY - AUGUST 18: U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton meets with law enforcement experts at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, NY, on August 18, 2016. (Photo by Yana Paskova/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 17: Democratic candidate for President Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters during a Hillary for America rally at John Marshall High School on August 17, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH-August 17: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tours John Marshall High School
August 17, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Clinton was scheduled to speak at a rally at the school. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH-August 17: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrives at Cleveland Hopkins Airport August 17, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Clinton was scheduled to speak at a rally at John Marshall High School. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 15: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden conduct a campaign rally at Riverfront Sports in Scranton, Pa., August 15, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Scranton, PA - AUGUST 15: Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets supporters after holding a rally with Vice President Joe Biden at Riverfront Sports athletic facility on August 15, 2016 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tours Futuramic Tool & Engineering, before delivering an economic speech and job creation, in Detroit, Michigan on Thursday August 11, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
KISSIMMEE, FL - AUGUST 08: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton stands with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) as she attends a campaign rally at the Exhibition Hall in Kissimmee, Florida on August 8, 2016. Clinton continues to campaign to become the President of the United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tours a small business, Mojave Electric, in Las Vegas, Nevada on Thursday August 4, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
RICHMOND, VA - AUGUST 01: Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) poses for photos with supporters during a campaign event August 1, 2016 in Richmond, Virginia. Kaine returns to campaign in a homecoming rally after he was picked to be the running mate of Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - On the third day of a bus tour through Pennsylvania and Ohio, Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with running mate Senator Tim Kaine, and Anne Holton, aboard the campaign bus in Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday July 31, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - On the second day of a bus tour through Pennsylvania and Ohio, Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with running mate Senator Tim Kaine, Anne Holton, and President Bill Clinton, speak to and meet Pennsylvania voters during a rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday, July 30, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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Clinton has also reportedly scheduled a full mock debate, a tedious process that can eat away at precious preparation time and often leaves candidates drained. The New York Times reported last week that Clinton aide Philippe Reines would play Trump, signaling to many observers that she was hoping to prepare against someone who was not afraid to go after her personal weaknesses during debate prep.
"Well, look, I think she has to talk directly to the American people about what she wants to do," Clinton campaign chair John Podesta said Sunday on "Meet the Press."
"You know, I think when you think about what's honest about her, it's that from the day she got, left law school, she has been a champion for women, for children, for families," he added. "She's done it all her life. She's gotten real results for people. In contrast, Donald Trump's been all about himself. But she's got to tell people what she wants to do for them."
'Trump's got a lower bar to get over'
For his part, Trump's preparation has reportedly taken on a much different shape.
He has apparently largely rebuffed attempts to nail down concrete one-liners and invest hours into pouring over debate preparation books, saying that he wants to appear authentic and unscripted. The Times reported that Trump has opted against selecting one person to play his opponent in mock debates, a customary political ritual. And many early debate-preparation sessions ended without much progress.
Still, Trump has also espoused the value of being unpredictable and could take a steadier approach that would defy some expectations.
Politico reported that Trump was retaining conservative polling firm Cambridge Analytica to study Clinton's past debate performances and create a psychological profile based on their famed "psychographics" technique, which attempts to target specific groups of voters based on their psychological profiles.
"Trump's got a lower bar to get over than Hillary does," Mackowiak said. "On the other hand, she's been preparing and he hasn't."
Most observers agree the debate could easily set the tone for the next several weeks of campaigning — or at least until they meet again on October 9.
Polls show the real-estate magnate closing in on Clinton in key swing states. According to the RealClearPolitics average of recent reputable polls, Trump currently leads Clinton in key battleground states including Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, and North Carolina, among others.
If history is a precedent, a debate win for either candidate could help boost them in the polls. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney cut into President Barack Obama's lead in 2012 after the president delivered a widely panned performance during the first debate.
And many past campaigns have blamed losses on the debates themselves.
Some advisers to former Vice President Al Gore point to his barely concealed contempt for then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush during the first debate as the vice president's undoing in the general election. Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis' response to a question about his position on the death penalty, which some viewed as insensitive, was largely seen as a nail in the coffin in his campaign against then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.