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Trump, Biden to hold dueling town halls in place of scrapped debate

The two presidential candidates will battle for airtime after the US president refused to hold a virtual debate in wake of his COVID diagnosis

In this combination of pictures created on September 29, 2020, Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden (L) and US President Donald Trump speak during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. (Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP)
In this combination of pictures created on September 29, 2020, Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden (L) and US President Donald Trump speak during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. (Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Donald Trump and White House challenger Joe Biden will duel for airtime in rival televised town hall events Thursday night, after their second head-to-head debate was scrapped following the US president’s COVID-19 diagnosis.

Trump set up the scheduling clash by organizing his own town hall on NBC at the same time as Biden had arranged his event on ABC.

The president, a former reality TV show star and a keen follower of viewing figures, will be seeking to score a victory over Biden by attracting a bigger audience during the primetime 8:00 p.m. eastern time slot.

The two were meant to have met on stage for their second debate on Thursday in a town hall format where the two candidates would have fielded questions from voters.

Debate organizers said they wanted to switch to a virtual format for safety reasons after Trump contracted the coronavirus, but he refused.

US President Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally in Sanford, Florida, October 12, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

The president, who will be at the Perez Art Museum in Miami for the one-hour show, has 20 days left to overturn dire polling figures to win the November 3 election and secure a second term.

Biden, who had already booked his appearance last week, will be in Philadelphia for his town hall as he tries to secure his front-runner status.

NBC said it had received a statement from the clinical director at the National Institutes of Health, Anthony Fauci, that there was “a high degree of confidence” that Trump is now “not shedding infectious virus.”

Trump and the NBC host will be socially distanced at the outdoor venue and the audience will wear safety masks, NBC added.

Biden has been frequently testing for coronavirus and reporting negative results since Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis on October 1.

Shouting match

The first of three scheduled presidential debates was widely criticized for descending into an angry shouting match as Trump attempted to inflict a late wound to Biden’s campaign.

At a rally in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Trump accused Biden of “choking like a dog” during the debate, and unleashed a tirade of lurid insults at his challenger, calling him mentally “shot.”

“He can’t stand up to the lunatics running his party,” Trump told the large, raucous crowd in Johnstown.

Furthering his long-running narrative that 77-year-old Biden is too frail for the presidency, Trump, 74, tweeted a crudely faked picture purporting to show Biden in a wheelchair.

The attack came as Biden stepped up his own courting of the important elderly vote, telling an event at a retirement center in Florida on Tuesday that Trump has “never been focused on you.”

“His handling of this pandemic has been erratic, just like his presidency has been,” he said.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden delivers remarks at a voter mobilization event in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 12, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP)

The coronavirus has claimed more than 215,000 lives in America, with Trump himself hospitalized for three nights after testing positive — derailing his campaign in the crucial last weeks of the race.

A RealClearPolitics average of national polls has Biden up by 9.8 points, with the Democrat leading Trump by substantial margins in half a dozen key battleground states.

Determined to turn the tide as he hits the ground again this week with back-to-back rallies, Trump’s next campaign stop is Des Moines, Iowa later on Wednesday.

“Iowa has been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic,” said a statement from Biden.

“But President Trump isn’t coming to the Hawkeye State to offer words of comfort to those suffering… he’s here to spread more lies about the pandemic and distract from his record of failure.”

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