Here are three key questions for Trump and Clinton at the first presidential debate

The first presidential debate takes place on Monday evening at New York's Hofstra University

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Hofstra University

Image: Mary Altaffer / AP/Press Association Images

The first televised debate of the US presidential race is taking place tonight - or, more specifically, the very early hours of tomorrow morning Irish time.

NBC's Lester Holt is moderating the debate, and last week the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the three topics to be put to candidates: 'Securing America', 'America's Direction', and 'Achieving Prosperity'.

The topics are, obviously, as broad as possible, and will allow for the discussion to swing in all manner of directions. There's also likely to be huge amounts of crossover - issues such as immigration, for example, could be encompassed under all three headers.

But here's what's likely to be covered - and where the candidates stand.

America's Direction

This is a particularly broad topic, but one that Donald Trump has repeatedly addressed with his familiar four-word logo: "Make America Great Again".

How exactly is he proposing to achieve that? He has committed to significant childcare reform, such as "excluding the costs of child and elder care from tax," and incentivising employers to provide childcare at the workplace. Similarly, he has dedicated a lot of time to the issue of veterans, promising to "transform" the Department of Veterans Affairs and to support the "whole veteran, not just their physical health care".

On the subject of healthcare, Trump has said one of his first tasks will be to call on the US Congress to "deliver a full repeal of Obamacare".

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has offered up a far broader range of areas for reform, especially in areas of civil rights. Her promises range from automatic voter registration to the fight "for full federal equality for LGBT Americans". Like her rival, she has voiced her support for "affordable, flexible childcare" and "a 21st-century Department of Veterans Affairs".

One area where Trump could certainly come under fire tonight is on the subject of climate change. Clinton has offered up a comprehensive list of goals related to clean energy and decreasing the reliance on fossil fuels. Trump, however, has called for measures such as "lifting unnecessary restrictions on all sources of American energy (such as coal and onshore and offshore oil and gas)".

Securing America

Based on the race so far, this is likely to prove the most contentious area.

Donald Trump's immigration policies have drawn plenty of attention over the last year or so. Perhaps his 'flagship' policy in this regard is 'building a wall' along the US / Mexican border, which he has claimed Mexico will pay for.

It's part of his general plans to cut down on immigration - which also include pledges such as the "mandatory return of all criminal aliens" and a huge increase in immigration officers. He has also previously proposed a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the country, and floated the idea of a deportation task force.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton has also promised immigration reform, although emphasised that immigration laws should be implemented humanely. She has committed to areas such as the promotion of naturalisation and supports for immigrant integration. 

She says she will "end family detention for parents and children who arrive at our border in desperate situations and close private immigrant detention centers".

The other big talking point will be their approach to Islamic State. Both have vowed action against the group, but to varying degrees. Clinton says she will intensify the coalition air campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq, and further support Arab and Kurdish forces on the ground. This is in addition to increased efforts to "dismantle global terror networks" and "harden our defenses at home".

Donald Trump, meanwhile, has said he would give his generals 30 days to devise a plan to "soundly and quickly" defeat Islamic State if elected.

In one of his most controversial statements early in the campaign, he said he would "take out their families" and "knock the hell out of" the group. However, he has since clarified "I didn’t say kill. We have to go after them".

This topic could also encompass one of the most heated areas of all: gun laws. Hillary Clinton has campaigned for "commonsense" gun reform, such as expanding background checks and keeping guns "out of the hands of domestic abusers, other violent criminals, and the severely mentally ill".

The Trump campaign, on the other hand, has said: "We are the only country in the world that has a Second Amendment. Protecting that freedom is imperative".

Achieving Prosperity

Trump has campaigned hard on the issue of the economy, in particular on trade, an issue that Clinton seems to have switched her stance on. She has previously been an advocate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), but has claimed that she will "take a look" at it if elected. 

Trump, on the other hand, has maintained a hardline stance on TPP and other trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He has stated that he will return jobs that have been lost overseas, and much of his rhetoric has focused on the country's relationship with China. 

Trump has claimed that the United States has opened its market to Chinese companies without reciprocation, thanks to a "Great Wall of Protectionism". In particular, he has criticised what he claims is currency manipulation and intellectual property theft on the part of the Chinese government.

Trump has also promised to cut America's corporate tax rate to 15%, and has pointed to companies relocating to Ireland, among other places, in order "to save taxes". This is an area that Clinton has also honed in on, proposing an exit fee for any company that moves their business overseas. 

In opposition to Trump's stance that the introduction of any further regulation should be "paused", Clinton has promised to crack down on the financial sector with further legislation on Wall Street, including the idea of enforcing reduced compensation for executives at financial institutions who have been fined by the regulator.

However, in addition to the lifting restrictions on the fossil fuels industry, Trump proposes to similarly scale back the government's role in the financial sector, which includes repealing the Dodd-Frank legislation, as well as "vigorously eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in the Federal government".

When it comes to income tax, Trump has proposed to cut the system down from seven tax brackets to just three, reducing the rate of tax paid by those earning over $413,350 per year.

Clinton has proposed a "Fair Share Surcharge," which would see the tax rate increased by 4% on those earning over $5 million, and ensuring that those earning over $1 million pay no less than 30% tax. She has also proposed giving tax credits for long-term investments and hiring new staff to stimulate investment from top earners

What to look out for

The danger, in particular for Clinton, is to make sure that they don't go too heavy on the details of any of their policy positions and concentrate on how they relate to the voting public, in order to avoid being labeled a 'policy wonk'. 

Many of the watching public will already have already decided on which way their vote will go, and so this is an exercise in optics, as both candidates will need to focus on their demeanour. Much of the coverage in advance has questioned whether or not Trump can keep his cool as Clinton attempts to needle him, while she will need to avoid any major gaffes as she is pressed on her use of a private email server, record on Benghazi, and connections to Wall Street.

As 16 other candidates in the Republican primary process learned to their detriment, Trump is the master of the one-liner, and brings a sense of spectacle to the proceedings. This all makes him a particularly difficult and unpredictable opponent, who has shown he's willing to go further than other candidates have to date in his attacks on Clinton.

Equally, as a skilled and experienced debater, the former Secretary of State can take aim at Trump's lack of political nous and questionable temperament as the watching public lies in wait, ready to declare a winner or a loser at the first sign of a stumble.