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Biden set for a high-stakes TV interview as he seeks to recover from first debate

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will sit Friday for his first televised interview since his disastrous debate performance last week, one that could be crucial in determining whether he can salvage his embattled candidacy.

The interview with anchor George Stephanopoulos of ABC News is shaping up to be one of the most high-stakes moments for a president or a candidate in many years. Democratic elected officials, donors and voters will be closely watching to see whether he can still deliver in an adversarial setting and turn in a performance worthy of being the party’s nominee to defeat Donald Trump this fall.

The interview will “air in its entirety as a primetime special” at 8 p.m. ET Friday, ABC said, adding that a “transcript of the unedited interview will be made available the same day.”

The big questions on many Democrats’ minds are: Were the frailty and incoherence he exhibited at the debate anomalies, or have they become common occurrences for Biden? Can he still mount a vigorous campaign with a reasonable chance of defeating Trump? And if not, would Democrats be better off if Biden stepped aside for a replacement candidate — most likely Vice President Kamala Harris — to be nominated at next month’s convention?

“Every appearance he makes between now and the convention is make or break in terms of Democratic support for him continuing on as our nominee,” said a Democratic lawmaker in Congress, who is privately skeptical that Biden can stay in the race. “He needs to show that he can do the full range of events required for an active, successful campaign.”

Democrats have reason to be nervous. Even before the debate, surveys indicated that Biden was an underdog in the race against Trump, albeit a narrow one, with questions about age and fitness following him throughout the campaign, including among his own Democratic base. Postdebate polls are a mixed bag — some showed Biden’s support dipping but within the margin of error, while others showed a statistically significant slip in trial heats versus Trump.

As some Democrats call on him to drop out of the race, Biden remains publicly defiant. At a Fourth of July celebration at the White House, he told a guest who yelled a supportive message at him: “I’m not going anywhere.”

He ramped up his efforts Wednesday to reassure jittery Democrats — speaking to congressional leaders, meeting with governors and holding an all-hands call with campaign staff members promising to stay in the race.

“No one is pushing me out,” Biden told staffers, according to a campaign official on the call. “I’m not leaving. I’m in this race to the end, and we’re going to win.”

But privately, Biden remains torn between acceptance that he might have to step aside and defiance in the face of those calls, sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

Other Democrats say Biden’s interview Friday will be less important than what the polls say in the coming days — in the Biden-vs.-Trump race for the White House, nationally and in battleground states — as well as signals about whether his candidacy is hurting Democrats’ hopes of winning House and Senate seats in a highly competitive battle for control of both chambers.

If Biden’s standing weakens to the point that it looks like staying in would cost Democrats the House, that would be a red line, said a House Democrat who represents a competitive district.

Allies say it’s crucial for Biden to do more interviews, town halls and events in unscripted settings. Since the debate, he has given several speeches at rallies and fundraisers and at the White House — usually with a teleprompter in a controlled setting.

Over the last week, Biden has conceded that he has slipped when it comes to his communication skills but says he remains in command when it comes to doing the job of president — and contends that Trump is too dishonest and dangerous to hold power. At 81, Biden is only three years older than Trump, 78, whose falsehoods, rants and descent into grievances at the Atlanta debate were overshadowed by Biden’s inability to deliver coherent responses.

Trump attacked Stephanopoulos on social media Thursday, calling him the “meanest and most vicious Interviewer.” He also called for “another Debate” with Biden but without moderators — “this time, no holds barred — An all on discussion, with just the two of us on stage, talking about the future of our Country.”

Biden’s appearance on ABC may be the most important interview for a presidential candidate since 1992, when Bill and Hillary Clinton sat for an interview to show solidarity in the wake of Gennifer Flowers’ coming forward to say she had an extramarital affair with Bill Clinton for 12 years.

The man who organized that interview?

Stephanopoulos, who was then the communications director for Clinton’s campaign.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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