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Trump, Biden duel in town halls on rival networks

Trump, Biden duel in town halls on rival networks

On night of nixed debate, Biden denounces handling of virus while Trump dodges question about negative test

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden squared off, in a way, Thursday night in dueling televised town halls that showcased striking differences in temperament, views on racial justice and approaches to COVID-19.

Coming just two and half weeks before Election Day, the night offered crystalizing contrasts and a national audience. But it seemed unlikely to have produced a neededmoment for a president running out of time and opportunities to appeal beyond his core base.

He was defensive about his administration's handling of the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 215,000 American lives, and evasive when pressed about whether he took a required COVID-19 test before his first debate with Biden. Angry and combative, Trump refused to denounce the QAnon conspiracy group — and only testily did so regarding white supremacists.

The president also appeared to acknowledge revelations from a recent New York Times report that he was in debt and left open the possibility that some of it was owed to a foreign bank. But he insisted that he didn't owe any money to Russia or any "sinister people" and suggested that $400 million in debt was a "very, very small percentage" compared to his overall assets.

Biden denounced the White House's handling of the virus, declaring that it was at fault for closing a pandemic response office established by the Obama administration in which he served. Though vague at times, he suggested that he will offer clarity on his position on expanding the Supreme Court if Trump's nominee to the bench is seated before Election Day.

After Biden's 90-minute town hall event formally concluded, he spent another half-hour taking questions from those in the audience who didn't get an opportunity during the televised program.

Trump and Biden were supposed to spend Thursday night on the same debate stage in Miami. But that faceoff was scuttled after Trump's coronavirus infection, which jolted the race and threatened Trump's health. Trump wouldn't saywhether he had tested negative on the day of his Sept. 29 debate with Biden, allowing only "possibly I did, possibly I didn't."

The presidential rivals took questions in different cities on different networks: Trump on NBC from Miami, Biden on ABC from Philadelphia. Trump backed out of plans for the presidential faceoff originally scheduled for the evening after debate organizers said it would be held virtually following his COVID-19 diagnosis.

The town halls offered a different format for the two candidates to present themselves to voters. The difference in the men's tone was immediate and striking.

Trump was Trump. He was loud and argumentative, rebuking his FBI director, fighting with the host, Savannah Guthrie, complaining about the questioning — and eventually saying for the first time that hewould honor the results of a fair election, but only after casting an extraordinary amount of doubt on the likeliness of fairness.

"And then they talk 'Will you accept a peaceful transfer,' " Trump said. "And the answer is, 'Yes, I will.' But I want it to be an honest election, and so does everybody else."

Biden, meanwhile, took a far different, softer, approach with audience questions. The former vice president, who struggled growing up with a stutter, stuttered slightly at the start of the program and at one point squeezed his eyes shut and slowed down his response to clearly enunciate his words. At times his answers droned on.

Holdingawhiteclothmask inone hand, the Democrat also brought a small card of notes on stage and referred to it while promising to roll back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. He said doing so would save, "let me see … $92 billion."

Biden also blasted Trump's foreign policy, declaring that " 'America first' has made 'America alone' " and "This president embraces all the thugs in the world."

The two men are still scheduled share a debate stage next week in Nashville.

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