Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli square off in the first debate of the Virginia governor's race Saturday.

The contest is one of the nation's most closely watched political fights of 2013, a year when most states are taking a break from elections. The Virginia Bar Association is hosting the 11 a.m. debate at The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va., the traditional venue for the first sparing match between commonwealth candidates. ABC political correspondent Martha Raddatz will moderate.

The race between McAuliffe, a former National Democratic Party chairman, and Cuccinelli, the state's attorney general, is already a heated affair, and the first debate should only further fan the flames between the two campaigns.

The candidates will have a chance to question each other. Cuccinelli, a more seasoned politician and a notably skilled debater, has relished the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with McAuliffe, challenging his opponent to 15 debates (though Cuccinelli has also turned down a traditional debate hosted by AARP and the League of Women Voters). National Democrats tempered the expectations for McAuliffe this week with a memo noting Cuccinelli's experience in these forums.

But McAuliffe faired well earlier this year at a technology forum in Northern Virginia and has plenty of ammo to go after Cuccinelli, who has been rattled by reports of his relationship with a businessman at the center of an FBI investigation of Gov. Bob McDonnell. Cuccinelli, too, will also be forced to answer questions on his conservative social stances, a topic Democrats believe gives them an advantage among moderate women voters.

The debate will air live over the Internet. It is still uncertain how many more debates McAuliffe and Cuccinelli will hold.