From Special Lecterns to a Kiddie Party Study Break: Inside Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's Final Prep for Monday Night's Debate

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been building to this moment for months

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty; Bob Levey/Getty

It’s game time for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Monday night’s debate, the first face-to-face showdown of an especially bitter election fight, is a big deal: It’s expected to draw a Super Bowl-sized audience of as many as 100 million viewers. They will be treated to 90 nonstop, commercial-free, marathon minutes of Clinton and Trump arguing on their feet at their respective lecterns, with NBC’s Lester Holt moderating.

The high-stakes prep and practice sessions have been cloaked in secrecy and wrapped in expectations gamesmanship. As Clinton told PEOPLE earlier this month, “I’m going to leave the whole debate prep world to itself. I’m not going to comment on it other than to say, Trump says he won all of the Republican debates, so I know I have to be prepared and be willing to stand up to all of his various tactics and bullying.”

Since then, her aides – and Trump’s – have leaked some detail. Clinton has been holding mock debates preparing, first for the pugnacious and bullying Trump we saw in his Republican primary debates, and more recently, for a gentler, gracious Trump. She did a full dress rehearsal on Sunday at a hotel near her Chappaqua, New York, home, taking an afternoon study break to celebrate her granddaughter Charlotte’s 2nd birthday at a kiddie party in Manhattan.

On Monday, Clinton was holding one final practice session with “affable Trump” (played by her former Senate and State Department communications adviser), according to NBC News.

The Democratic nominee also spent the weekend reviewing briefing books and watching game tape of Trump’s past performances, NBC News also reports, quoting a Clinton campaign aide as saying, “She is best when she over-prepares.”

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Meanwhile, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said the GOP nominee will unveil details on his plans to defeat ISIS if asked at the debate.

“He’ll tell you if that question is asked,” Conway said on Morning Joe Monday. “But there’s also, you know, people are just amazed that Hillary Clinton would put on her campaign website what her plan to defeat ISIS is. Is it that ISIS can’t read that plan … he’ll be happy to offer the specifics without telling the enemy exactly what we’re going to do.”

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According to NBC News, the competing campaigns never signed a traditional, binding agreement on various logistics – including dimensions of the lecterns at which the candidates will stand for 90 minutes – which might explain why ABC Radio’s Rita Cosby found two slightly different lecterns on the stage when she toured the Hofstra University debate hall on Sunday.

“Got sneak peek at the #debate hall #HofDebate16 and saw the #podiums being used. Clearly one is TALLER! Was told #plywood added,” Cosby tweeted, later surmising on her radio program that Clinton’s lectern was sized to mitigate the height difference between the 5’4″ Clinton and 6’2″ Trump.

The candidates have been building to this moment for months and dropping clues on social media on the advisors and strategies they’re counting on for Monday night’s performance. PEOPLE read the tea leaves in their Instagram accounts.

They’ve been consulting with allies.

Clinton has asked her broad circle of experts to submit suggestions, which she had aides compile in subject-specific binders that often crowd her kitchen counter, according to TIME.

On the other hand, “Trump will entertain suggestions from his insular circle of advisers aboard his personal jet as he soars to campaign rallies. Clinton wants specifics and details; Trump wants one-liners that will be catnip for cable television,” TIME reports.

They’re fueling up: Trump on Philly cheese steaks, and Clinton on her beloved hot peppers and any Girl Scout cookies she has leftover.

They’ve been working the Hollywood crowd, where their supporters know a thing or two about performing: Wayne Newton and Phil Robertson for Trump, and Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and the cast of Hamilton for Clinton.

And in what little free time they have, they spend it with their families: New grandson Aidan for Clinton, and granddaughter Chloe for Trump.

They’re hitting the campaign trail like crazy, focusing on battleground states, trying to translate voter impressions from the debates into actual votes.

They’re reminding supporters to go follow them on Twitter – and not just because even presidential candidates love to be “favorite-d” and “liked” and “RT”-ed.

It’s another way to have the last word on Monday night!

They’re reminding everyone that they both said very inspiring things.

Tune into NBC at 9 p.m. EST Monday night to see if all that hard work pays off!

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