President Donald Trump delivered a combative defense on Thursday of his Covid-19 response while election challenger Joe Biden -- offering a glaring contrast in style in a rival town hall -- accused him of doing "nothing" to end the pandemic.
The dueling appearances, scheduled at the same time on rival television networks, showed Biden giving unflashy, empathetic, often in-depth answers to voters in the audience, while Trump delivered a fiery, sometimes agitated defense of his presidency.
Trump, who trails in the polls ahead of the November 3 election, was especially under pressure about the coronavirus that has killed over 217,000 Americans and inflicted deep economic damage.
"We're rounding the corner," Trump insisted with his usual optimism, even as swaths of the United States see sharply rising caseloads.
But pressed by the host of the NBC town hall in Miami, he became quickly frustrated, especially when asked about his previous lukewarm denunciations of extremist rightwing groups in the country.
He notably refused to denounce QAnon, a conspiracy theory movement that claims Trump is waging a secret war against a global liberal cult of Satan-worshipping pedophiles.
"I know nothing about QAnon," Trump said, and then continued to praise the shadowy group's position being "very much against pedophilia."
The president entered calmer waters when fielding a series of more comfortable questions from members of the audience, one of whom sparked applause by telling Trump: "You have a great smile."
'GRUDGES DON'T WORK'
By contrast, Biden's appearance on rival network ABC mirrored his steady and generally low-key campaign, with promises of bipartisan healing in divided Washington and aiming steady fire on Trump's coronavirus record.
"We're in a situation where we have 210,000 plus people dead and what's he doing? Nothing. He's still not wearing masks," Biden said of Trump at the event in Philadelphia.
His standout comments at a time of profound political conflict in the country were when he vowed to improve the atmosphere, saying "grudges don't work."
Biden repeatedly came back to the theme of unity, saying he would be president to all Americans including those who voted against him.
Biden also ripped into Trump for embracing "all the thugs in the world" as he condemned the president's foreign policy record.
EMBRACING 'ALL THE THUGS'
And Biden mocked Trump for sending North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un "love letters" at his ABC town hall event.
"This president embraces all the thugs in the world," said Biden. He also mentioned Trump's warm relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Biden says USA leads the world not by its military power. But the whole world follows USA for its values and support for international community.
"He has pulled out of almost every international organisation and he gets laughed at, literally not figuratively, when he goes to the UN," added Biden suggesting Trump has hurt America's global position by his weak or non-existing foreign policy.
Trump and Biden were set to return to the campaign trail yesterday with visits to three battleground states -- Florida, Georgia and Michigan.
Americans are voting early in record numbers with more than 17.8 million casting their ballots already ahead of the presidential election.
And while the result of the White House race will not be known until Election Day on November 3 -- or perhaps much later -- the early vote indications appear to favor the 77-year-old Biden, who has a double-digit lead over Trump in the national polls.
Despite Trump's insistence that the pandemic is in the rear view mirror, it continues to disrupt the election.
COVID SCARE HALTS HARRIS CAMPAIGN
Following Trump's temporary time out recovering, Biden's running mate Kamala Harris has put her own travel on hold after her communications director and a flight crew member tested positive.
Harris did not need to quarantine, the campaign said, but "out of an abundance of caution" would suspend in-person campaigning until October 19.
Biden has reported multiple negative coronavirus tests since Trump's Covid-19 diagnosis on October 1, the latest on Thursday.
The campaign said that yet another person who tested positive had traveled on Biden's plane this week but had been so far away that the candidate was in no danger and doctors said "there is no need" for him to quarantine.