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'Whoa, he's presidential': How Trump may benefit from low expectations

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have different goals going into their first presidential debate tonight, political experts said on Monday, with themes of gender and experience playing a big role in the conversation.

Former Michigan governor and Clinton surrogate Jennifer Granholm and former George W. Bush senior aide and White House Political Director Sara Fagen agreed that expectations for each candidate are drastically different —primarily because of Trump's political inexperience and Clinton's gender.

The real estate mogul can only benefit from lowered expectations, Granholm said.

"Hillary Clinton has done everything right in terms of tonight. She's prepared," Granholm told CNBC's "Power Lunch" on Monday. "If [Donald Trump] stands there and looks presidential for 90 minutes...then people will say 'Whoa, he's presidential.'"

She argued that Clinton's gender unfairly places higher expectations on her, along with more questions and a higher level of scrutiny than the GOP nominee.

Fagan agreed that expectations are different, but says Trump's lack of political experience should set the bar lower for him than for Clinton.

"He has not been on the presidential debate stage like he will be tonight," Fagan told CNBC. "She has, and so in that regard, I do think it is fair to say that if he comes out and doesn't make mistakes...that he will have passed the test."

Those different expectations, Fagan says, make it relatively easy for Trump to ensure the race remains virtually tied at the end of the night.

"All Donald Trump has to do tonight is not make a mistake," she said. "That's all he has to do and this race will remain tied."

Granholm, however, argued that wasn't fair. She added that Clinton's policies on infrastructure, energy jobs and manufacturing should attract many of Trump's middle class supporters.