WASHINGTON (NBC News) – President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden went head-to-head Thursday — but not in the way it was planned.
The two candidates held separate town halls, nearly 1,200 miles apart, instead of a face-to-face debate that was scrapped in the wake of the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis.
On stage in Miami, Trump often argued in fiery exchanges with NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie. Biden took a softer approach in Philadelphia on ABC News with George Stephanopoulos.
The pandemic not only shaped the format but dominated the conversation, as coronavirus cases are on the rise again across the country.
“The president needed to lead and he didn’t do that, he didn’t talk about what needed to be done because he kept worrying, in my view, about the stock market,” Biden said.
“We’ve done an amazing job,” said Trump, “and it’s rounding the corner. And we have the vaccines coming and we have the therapies coming.”
The president, two weeks out now from his COVID-19 diagnosis, was on defense over when he caught it, and whether he took a required test before the last presidential debate.
“You don’t know if you took a test the day of the debate?” Guthrie asked the president.
“Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t,” Trump responded.
Questions from the audience zeroed in on the economy, with millions of Americans still out of work.
“We gave you tax cuts, new regulation cuts, created jobs and next year will be the best year ever,” the president said.
“I will create 18.6 million new jobs, good-paying jobs,” Biden said, adding, “GDP will grow by a $1 trillion more than it would under Trump.”
For the first time, Trump committed to a peaceful transfer of power if he were to lose, while still casting doubt on the election results.
“Will you accept a peaceful transfer? And the answer is yes, I will,” he said. “But I want it to be an honest election, and so does everybody else.”
The two candidates are set to face off in person for one more presidential debate a week from Thursday in Nashville.