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Franken? Stewart? Cuban? Hillary's mock debate "Trump" remains a mystery

Debate prep

Who is playing Donald Trump in Hillary Clinton’s practice debates?

So far, the Hillary Clinton campaign will only confirm that at least one real, live human being has accepted the role of the brash Manhattan businessman. But they won’t say who it is, only who it isn’t.

Also, that the person playing Trump isn’t someone who “makes a living” as a comedian.

How about Al Franken, the comedy writer turned Minnesota Democratic senator?

Nope, not him, the campaign confirms.

If it’s a politician, maybe it’s a populist like Sen. Sherrod Brown? Or a New Yorker like Rep. Joe Crowley, who like Trump hails from Queens? Perhaps Jon Stewart? Maybe Mark Cuban?

None of the above, it turns out.

How Trump and Clinton are prepping for the first debate

Other names CBS News has been able to rule out, in no particular order: Bill Clinton, Mike Bloomberg, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Cuomo, Terry McAuliffe, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Joe Biden, Kevin Spacey, Barney Frank, Steny Hoyer, Rob Reiner, John Larson, Lewis Black, Bob Barnett, Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd, Chris Van Hollen, Bill Pascrell, James Carville, Howard Dean, and Ed Rendell.

Preparing for a debate – let alone one that’s expected to shatter viewership records and bring in an almost Super Bowl-sized audience – is serious business. In a race this tight, a breakout performance could very well make all the difference on Election Day, which means Clinton’s mock debates will take on even more importance than usual.

“It’s just like preparing an athlete,” GOP debate coach Brett O’Donnell told CNN in 2012. “If they’re not mentally prepared for the worst of the worst then something will take them by surprise and so those mock debates are extremely important because I look at it like a batter in the on deck circle, they swing a heavy bat or a bat with a weight on it, so that when they get in the batter’s box the bat feels lighter.”

The Clinton campaign says that the debate prep is taking place in Westchester. And while they say Clinton isn’t practicing every day, per se, she does have materials to review wherever she goes. According to the New York Times, she’s even reached out to psychology experts to find ways to best provoke her Republican opponent, causing him to lose his cool. 

Trump, meanwhile, has indicated that he’s not doing much of any debate prep, which in any case would be difficult giving his intensive campaigning on the trail. “I don’t want to present a false front,” he told the Times last month. “I mean, it’s possible we’ll do a mock debate, but I don’t see a real need.”

Trump apparent indifference toward debate prep is a marked change from previous GOP nominees. They almost always held mock debates to get in shape, and in recent years the Democrat has often been played Sen. Rob Portman, a gifted mimic. 

Dickerson on Trump and Clinton's first presidential debate

Portman has played Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards and Barack Obama in mock debates for Republican nominees. He was so good at doing Obama, in fact, that John McCain’s wife reportedly ran away in tears after witnessing a 2008 sparring session with the Arizona senator.

But Portman is running for re-election this year, and despite being the heavy favorite over his Democratic challenger, he’s kept Trump at a distance. In late August, Trump hinted that his daughter Ivanka might take Clinton’s place in a mock debate should he decide to have one.

Clinton’s Trump, however, remains a mystery, and whoever is filling the role has a tall order. It’s hard to predict how, exactly, Trump will act once he’s on the debate stage. Will he be sober and restrained? Will he bring up Clinton’s scandals? 

Can one person, however talented, play two Trumps in Clinton’s mock debate? “You’re not sure who is going to show up,” Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communication director, told reporters on Wednesday. “He may be aggressive or laid back.”

Although they’re being tight-lipped about who will play the GOP nominee, the Clinton campaign will say this: whichever Trump shows up, their candidate will be ready for him. 

CBS News Correspondent Nancy Cordes and Digital Journalist Hannah Fraser-Chanpong contributed to this report.

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