WATCH: Stakes High As Trump & Biden Head Into Final Debate

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden hurtled toward Thursday night’s final debate.

The two men headed for Nashville before the debate, which offers their final national stage to outline starkly different visions for a country in the grips of a surging pandemic that has killed more than 225,000 Americans and cost millions of jobs.

Worried that Trump could lose the White House and cost Republicans the Senate, some advisers urged him to trade his aggressive demeanor from the first debate for a lower-key style and put the spotlight on Biden, whom he derides as “Sleepy Joe.” But Trump made no such promise.

Biden, who has stepped off the campaign trail for several days in favor of debate prep, expects Trump to get intensely personal. “Hopefully he’ll play by the rules,” Biden said as he boarded his plane for Tennessee. “I’m looking forward to this.”

Final debates often play an outsized role in electoral outcomes. But Thursday night’s showdown will be different from those past.

More than 42 million people have already cast their ballots as part of a pandemic-era rise in early voting. In an election dominated by a polarizing president, far fewer undecided voters remain than at this point in 2016. And, in a visual reminder of the pandemic that has rewritten the norms of American society and fundamentally changed the campaign, sheets of plexiglass have been installed onstage between the two men.

The debate, moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker, is a final chance for each man to make his case to a television audience of tens of millions of voters. And questions swirled as to how Trump would perform amid a stretch of the campaign in which he has taken angry aim at the news media and unleashed deeply personal attacks on Biden and his adult son.

In an effort to curtail interruptions this time, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that Trump and Biden will each have his microphone cut off while his rival delivers an opening two-minute answer to each of six debate topics.

The mute button won’t figure in the open discussion portion of the debate.

Biden can expect questions about his comments in a CBS interview, released Thursday, in which he wouldn’t rule out trying to add justices to the Supreme Court. The issue has followed him since the Sept. 18 death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the GOP-controlled Senate’s rush to confirm Trump’s nominee to succeed her, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

As for Biden’s family, Trump has been promoting a bombshell New York Post report from last week that cites an email in which an official from the Ukrainian gas company Burisma apparently thanks Hunter Biden, who served on the company’s board, for arranging for him to meet Joe Biden during a 2015 visit to Washington.

Biden and Trump were both tested for COVID-19 on Thursday and the results came back negative.

Trump announced just two days after the first debate that he tested positive for the virus. He later spent three nights in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center before returning to the White House.

After Trump’s COVID diagnosis, the debate commission ruled that the second debate, which was to have been held last week, be virtual. Trump balked, and the two men holding dueling town halls instead, speaking at the same time more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) apart.

As Trump continued to complain he was being treated unfairly by the news media, he posted on Facebook unedited footage of his own “60 Minutes” interview, where he repeatedly told CBS interviewer Lesley Stahl she would not have challenged Biden.

“You wouldn’t say to Biden what you just said to me,” Trump told Stahl when she questioned his characterization of the economy prior to the pandemic. “If he had it, you would never say that to Biden.”

After posting the video, Trump tweeted: “Tonight’s anchor, Kristen Welker, is far worse! #MAGA.”

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