US Election: Trump And Biden Compete With Separate Q&A Events

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President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will hold competing prime-time Q&A sessions later on Thursday, from separate locations.

The events replace a cancelled second presidential debate after Mr Trump’s refusal to participate virtually following his Covid-19 diagnosis.

The twin events, both televised at 20:00EST (00:00 GMT), will see the candidates field questions from voters.

Millions of early ballots have already been cast for the 3 November election.

Opinion polls suggest Mr Biden has a 10-point advantage over Mr Trump nationally, but his lead in some key states is narrower.

Campaigning has picked up the pace this week, with Mr Trump holding rallies in the battleground states of Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa, and Mr Biden travelling to Ohio and Florida.

What can we expect?

President Trump’s question and answer session – known as a town hall – in Miami, Florida, will be broadcast on NBC. A similar format for Mr Biden in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is being aired live on ABC. The timing of the events means viewers will not be able to follow them both live, unless they use two separate screens.

NBC has come under criticism for the scheduling of President Trump’s town hall event, which was only announced on Wednesday – days after Joe Biden’s Q&A was arranged.

Responding to the backlash, which has reportedly come from staff within the network itself, an NBC representative told the New York Post that “ratings were the last on a long list of concerns after public health and [NBC’s] public responsibility to inform viewers”.

The news network says the event will take place outdoors, with President Trump and moderator Savaannah Guthrie kept at least 12 feet apart, and audience members socially distanced and required to wear masks.

It said it had received analysis from the government’s top infectious disease specialist, Anthony Fauci, concluding “with a high degree of confidence” that the president was no longer “shedding infectious virus”.

ABC news says it will “adhere to state and local health and safety guidelines” when staging former Vice-President Joe Biden’s town hall event.

Mr Biden, 77, and Donald Trump, 74, are the two oldest candidates to contest a US presidential election.

Why not face to face?

The president tested positive for the virus on 1 October, spent three nights in hospital and was cleared by doctors to return to the campaign trail last weekend.

However, his diagnosis scuppered plans for a second head-to-head with Joe Biden – originally scheduled for Thursday. The committee organising the debates said it wanted to “protect the health and safety of all involved” by changing the format to a virtual debate, but the president refused to appear virtually rather than in person.

Joe Biden has reported multiple negative coronavirus tests since the president’s diagnosis.

The pandemic, which has already killed more than 216,000 Americans, is likely to take centre stage in Thursday’s prime-time televised events.

The candidates have struck different tones on the virus, with Mr Trump downplaying its severity and Mr Biden criticising him for not encouraging Americans to wear masks and social distance.

Events organised by the Mr Biden’s team this week showed social-distancing measures in place, in contrast to Trump rallies where mainly mask-less crowds were seen packed close together.

Speaking in Florida on Tuesday, Mr Biden attacked the president’s handling of Covid-19, telling elderly voters – who are more at risk of the virus – that Mr Trump saw them as “expendable”.

Mr Trump has regularly mocked Mr Biden as a senior citizen who lacks energy and is “sleepy”.

Meanwhile, First Lady Melania Trump announced her son, Barron, had tested positive for the virus earlier this month. However, he exhibited no symptoms, and has since tested negative.

At a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, President Trump said: “I don’t even think he knew he had it because they’re young and their immune systems are strong and they fight it off.”

An unprecedented number of people have already cast their votes early, with the figure as high as 15 million, according to the US Elections Project at the University of Florida. One of the key battlegrounds, North Carolina, opens early in-person voting on Thursday. President Trump is due to hold a rally there later.

Meanwhile Joe Biden’s team announced on Wednesday a record fundraising haul of more than $380m in the past month.

Another presidential debate on 22 October is still scheduled to take place, though it is unclear in what format. The first debate last month descended into insults and interruptions between the two candidates.

 

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