Trump vs Clinton: Debate will mark biggest moment of election

WASHINGTON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Democrat Hillary Clinton, suddenly vulnerable in the presidential race, is under pressure to deliver a strong performance against Republican Donald Trump in their first debate on Monday, a moment that could be the most consequential yet of the 2016 election.

RELATED: 2016 presidential debates

Trump relied on his famed spontaneity to fire off one-line zingers to dismantle 16 Republican rivals during the primaries, dispatching "low-energy" Jeb Bush or "lying Ted" Cruz and "little Marco" Rubio. He has repeatedly called Clinton "Crooked Hillary" at rallies.

"You're just not sure who is going to show up," said Jennifer Palmieri, a senior adviser to Clinton. "He may be aggressive or he may lay back. That's hard to game out necessarily so I would say most of the focus is on what points does she want to make."

Rick Lazio, a Republican former congressman from New York, found Clinton a tough opponent when he faced her in a U.S. Senate debate in New York in 2000.

He was seen as bullying, lost the debate and the election, and now says Trump will need to treat Clinton carefully.

"What he has to avoid is a sense that he is name calling, highly disrespectful, badgering, anything like that," he said.

ROLE-PLAYING

Former Republican Senator Judd Gregg, who played Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry in George W. Bush's mock debate sessions in 2000 and 2004, said Bush began preparing in early June unbeknownst to the press and for a while did two practice sessions a day.

For that reason, he said, he suspects Trump is doing more preparation work than he lets on.

"I have to believe he is doing something because it would be foolish to go in there and not practice at hearing lines," he said.

A Republican source close to the campaign said former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes has been coaching Trump but that the former reality TV star does not want to be over-prepared.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller said Trump is preparing for the debate but "there's nobody who's playing the role of Hillary Clinton."

"Mr. Trump prepares for everything that he does and one of the things to keep in mind going back to the primaries was that everybody said it was the professional politicians who would run the table and it was Mr. Trump who did very well," he said.

(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan; Editing by Caren Bohan and Ross Colvin)

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