ATLANTA (AP) — The first general election debate of the 2024 election season is here, and it's a historic moment no matter what happens on stage.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are taking part in Thursday night's debate in Atlanta. Not only is it the first-ever matchup between a sitting president and a former one, but it's also the first debate for either candidate in this year's election. And it's happening so early in the general election campaign cycle that neither man will have accepted their party's formal nomination yet.

Here's how to watch the debate:

What time is the debate?

The debate will start at 8 p.m. CST on Thursday. It's being moderated by CNN's Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.

What channel is the debate on?

CNN is carrying the debate live on its broadcast network, as well as on CNN International, CNN en Español and CNN Max. Viewers can also stream it without a log in on CNN's website. Several networks have also agreed to carry the event live.

Where is the debate?

The setting for the first general election debate is CNN's studios in Atlanta. Unlike the Republican primary debates, no audience will be present.

Once a Republican stronghold, Georgia was a pivotal battleground in 2020. Both parties are preparing for another closely contested race in the state this year. Trump also faces an indictment in Georgia for his push to “find 11,780 votes” and overturn Biden's victory based on false or unproven theories of voter fraud.

Which candidates will be on stage?

Two candidates—Biden and Trump—will be on stage. For a time, it seemed like they wouldn't be meeting up at all.

Biden's campaign had proposed excluding third-party candidates, such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., from the debates outright. Under the debate commission's rules, Kennedy or other third-party candidates could qualify if they secured ballot access sufficient to claim 270 Electoral Votes and polled at 15% or higher in a selection of national surveys.

Both CNN and ABC announced the same qualification threshold, saying candidates will need to reach at least 15% in four separate national polls of registered or likely voters that meet their standards, between March 13 and a week ahead of Thursday's match up. Last week, CNN announced that Kennedy hadn't met those markers.

The 2020 election debates were held in the fall, following decades of tradition. The first debate of the 2024 presidential election will take place far earlier than normal. Photo courtesy Joe Biden campaign

Trump didn't take part in any of the GOP primary debates, so this is his first time on stage this cycle. Biden didn't debate any of the Democrats challenging him, either.

Last month, Biden announced that he would not participate in fall presidential debates sponsored by the nonpartisan commission that has organized them for more than three decades. Instead, his campaign proposed that media outlets directly organize the debates between the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees.

Hours later, Biden said he had accepted an invitation from CNN, adding, “Over to you, Donald.” Trump, who had insisted he would debate Biden anytime and anyplace, said on Truth Social he'd be there, too, adding, “Let's get ready to Rumble!!!” Soon after that, they agreed to a second debate.

What's up next?

ABC will host the second debate on Sept. 10. The network has not offered details on where its event would be held, only that it would be moderated by anchors David Muir and Linsey Davis.

And don't forget about the running mates. Trump hasn't named his yet, but Vice President Kamala Harris has accepted an invitation from CBS News to debate her eventual rival in studio on either July 23 or Aug. 13.

Meg Kinnard can be reached at

Meg Kinnard covers national politics for The Associated Press. She lives in South Carolina.

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