US president Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden hit the campaign trail again yesterday after displaying their sharply contrasting styles in duelling televised town-hall events on Thursday evening.
Mr Trump is lagging in opinion polls and latest figures from his campaign show he is also behind in fundraising in the final weeks before the November 3 election.
Mr Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee raised some $247.8m (€211m) in September, his campaign manager said on Twitter, well behind the $383m (€327m) haul of Mr Biden and the Democratic Party.
Thursday’s events replaced a presidential debate that was cancelled after Mr Trump’s bout with coronavirus.
A combative Mr Trump, sparring with moderator Savannah Guthrie on NBC, refused to condemn the bizarre conspiracy theory QAnon, reiterated his unsubstantiated assertion the 2020 election is rife with fraud, and questioned whether masks can help combat the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Biden delivered policy-heavy answers and focused his attacks on Mr Trump’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed 216,000 people in the United States and hammered the economy.
National opinion polls have shown Mr Biden ahead for months and it was not clear whether Mr Trump’s aggressive posture would alter what has been a stable race despite a whirlwind of news.
More than 18.6 million Americans have already cast ballots, far more than at a similar juncture in 2016, according to a tracker at the US Elections Project at the University of Florida. Louisiana began early voting yesterday, following record turnout in competitive states Georgia, Texas and North Carolina this week.
The second presidential debate had been scheduled for Thursday, but Mr Trump pulled out after organisers said it would take place in a virtual setting, to lessen the risk of infection.
The president, who spent several days at a military hospital after contracting the virus two weeks ago, has since returned to headlining campaign rallies.
In Thursday’s town-hall event in Miami, he denounced white supremacists two weeks after failing to do so forcefully at the first presidential debate. But he would not do the same about QAnon, a fringe movement whose adherents believe Democrats are part of a global paedophile ring. Mr Trump said he knew nothing about the conspiracy theory when pressed by Ms Guthrie.
He also questioned whether masks are effective at stopping the spread of coronavirus, contradicting the consensus among public health experts.
In Philadelphia on the ABC network, Mr Biden outlined his plans to combat the pandemic and revive the economy by prioritising testing, funding local and state governments and hiking taxes dramatically on corporations and the wealthy.
He again deferred when asked whether he supports adding justices to the Supreme Court, which some Democrats favour as a response to Republicans’ tactics in pushing for a quick confirmation of Mr Trump’s latest nominee to the court, Amy Coney Barrett.
But Mr Biden said he would announce his position before the election.