HEMPSTEAD - Inside the David Mack arena at Hofstra University the stage is set, the countdown is on, and the campus is buzzing with anticipation.

Security is about as tight as it can get as two of the most important people in the world, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, will share a stage in just hours.

For students, it's a day they'll never forget.  Student volunteer Sophia Shakola says, “This is a great, great opportunity for us as students, especially in the PR program…to see media here live and see how things work during a debate.”

For political analysts, it's a day of work that could go down in history.  Hofstra University Political Analyst Larry Levy says it’s a really big deal for the university.  “We only had a couple of months to put this together, which usually we spend more than a year on, and the two candidates are so close in a confrontation really for the ages.”

The stakes could not be any higher tonight for Long Island and for the country.  Polls shows Clinton and Trump in a near dead-heat.  And more than a third of voters, including Long Islanders, say these debates will help determine who they will vote for.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll shows Clinton with just a 2-point lead over Trump.  And with an error margin of 4.5 percent, it means the two candidates are virtually tied going into the first debate.

When it comes to favorability among Long Island voters, Trump was ahead of Clinton Thursday. Forty-three percent of likely voters said they view the Republican candidate favorably, with Clinton at 39 percent, according to the latest News 12/Newsday/Siena Poll.

And the role of the moderator looms large, with so many questions around their role.  Chief among those questions is should the moderator be fact-checking the candidates?

NBC's Lester Holt will be asking the questions tonight.  His colleague, Matt Lauer, was criticized for not fact-checking Donald Trump during a Town Hall on national security.

Tonight, Holt will ask questions based on three general topics: America's Direction, Achieving Prosperity, and Securing America.