The first presidential debate is set for mid-September 2024, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced Monday, setting up the earliest ever start to the presidential debate schedule.
The bipartisan commission, which has sponsored every general election presidential debate since its founding in 1987, will host three next year, with the first on September 16 at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.
The second debate will be on October 1 at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia, and the third will be on October 9 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
There will also be one vice presidential debate on September 25 at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.
Typically, the first debate has been in late September or early October. In 2020, the first debate was on September 29, but amid an uptick in pandemic-era early voting, the Trump campaign called for an additional early September debate.
The schedule tweak also means that the debates will end earlier than they ever have. There will be 27 days between the last debate and Election Day on November 5. That’s compared to 12 days in 2020 and 20 days in 2016.
However, it’s not certain the debates will actually happen.
Last year, the Republican National Committee voted to withdraw from its participation in the commission, with RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel saying at the time that commission is “biased and has refused to enact simple and commonsense reforms.”
The scheduling change could make it more likely that the eventual Republican nominee participates in the debates, as the lack of a debate before voting started was one of McDaniel’s specific criticisms.
In 2020, the second scheduled presidential debate was canceled after then-President Donald Trump refused to take part in the event when the commission proposed doing it virtually because of coronavirus concerns. Instead, Trump and then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden participated in dueling town halls.
While the University of Utah hosted the 2020 vice presidential debate, the other three schools will host debates for the first time, with the commission’s co-chairs noting that Virginia State University will be the first historically Black college or university to host a general election debate.
All of the debates will start at 9 p.m. ET and will run for 90 minutes without commercial breaks, according to the commission’s statement, but details about format and moderators will be announced next year.
To receive an invitation to the debate, candidates need to be constitutionally eligible to serve as president, to be on the ballot on enough states to win a majority of the electoral votes, and to register at least 15% in polls from organizations selected by the commission.