NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — The first debate between the two candidates for Illinois’ governor will air on WMBD and our parent company, Nexstar’s Illinois new stations.

Thursday night’s showdown between the current governor, JB Pritzker and state senator Darren Bailey hopes to give voters a clearer sense of where they stand on various topics. Hosted at Illinois State University, political science professor Dr. Meghan Leonard said it gives college students an opportunity to be engaged citizens.

“Whoever wins this race is going to have a huge effect on the 18-22 year old’s that are here on campus,” Leonard said.

The showdown will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday at Braden Auditorium. Tickets are sold out and attendees are expected to fill seats to capacity.

Leonard said students can attend a campus-sponsored watch party at the Bone Student Center or watch from home. Either way, she encourages students to watch a “once-in-a-lifetime” moment of a debate of this scale being held in Normal.

“They have very stark different proposals for policies and what they would do as governor. Really, you can’t understate this kind of opportunity for a student,” Leonard said.

Pritzker and Bailey have clear-cut differences of opinion on abortion, Illinois’ economy and crime.

“The SAFE-T Act that is going to change bail in Illinois will be a big part of what Senator Bailey is going to try to get across to score points with supporters and even those on the fence,” Leonard said.

After winning the June primary, both men have been taking jabs at each other on social media and in various TV ads.

“Unlike the campaign advertisements which they can just make stuff up or distort things, you’ve got them on the stage and there’s point/counter-point,” said political science professor at Illinois Wesleyan, Tari Renner.

Renner, a professor of poli-sci at IWU since 1994 said it’s rare debates change much standing in the polls. Currently, Pritzker has a major advantage over Bailey.

“All of the national prognosticators call it a safe Democratic seat. Depending on what poll you use, he’s ahead by 12 or 19 points,” Renner said.

Renner added it’s the first time voters will get to see how both candidates perform under the pressure of being questioned and having to answer to a live audience.

“And having been in many, many debates myself over the years myself I can tell ya, you definitely feel it and you’ve got to think quickly and on your feet,” Renner said.

Renner also believes Pritzker’s response to COVID-19 could be a hot-button issue.

The debate will air live on WMBD with live updates throughout the day and evening.