Biden faces US voters at town hall as campaign heats up

By: AFP      Published: 10:28 PM, 17 Sep, 2020
Biden faces US voters at town hall as campaign heats up

White House hopeful Joe Biden on Thursday holds his first extended face-to-face with real voters since winning the Democratic nomination, a town hall where he will likely savage President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

With less than seven weeks before Election Day, Biden has ramped up his public appearances after spending large chunks of time at his Delaware home, even as Trump barnstormed swing states key to victory on November 3.

Now both candidates are hitting the campaign trail in earnest -- although in very different ways. Trump returns to Wisconsin Thursday for a public rally fueled by his signature bravado -- a contrast to Biden's quieter ways of connecting with blue collar and everyday voters.

The 77-year-old former vice president will take questions from a live, socially distanced audience at a town hall on what could be described as his home turf -- Scranton, the scrappy Pennsylvania city where Biden was born.

The face-to-face Q&A is a framework Biden has largely avoided during the pandemic, which has so far killed nearly 200,000 Americans. His go-to events have been speeches in Delaware, with only reporters and staff present.

He has traveled to swing states like Wisconsin, Florida and Pennsylvania, but has dodged crowds and engages with voters only in small, controlled settings. Trump has badgered his rival for remaining cloistered in his "basement" and declining to engage in more traditional campaign events.

Local officials briefed on the town hall plans told US media that it will take place in a stadium parking lot, and that pre-approved attendees will drive in and park near the stage. CNN said it will adhere to Pennsylvania pandemic guidelines, which limit gatherings to less than 250 people.

Growing animosity

The dueling events come one day after each candidate homed in on the pandemic as a campaign issue -- and offered dramatically different views of how the Trump administration has responded.

Biden delivered a scathing speech in which he said "I don't trust Donald Trump" to provide a vaccine free from any political interference. The Republican incumbent meanwhile insisted a vaccine could be ready this year, directly contradicting the timeline offered by a top government health official.

Trump said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield, one of the most prominent experts overseeing US pandemic response, "made a mistake" and "was confused" when he testified to lawmakers Wednesday that a safe and effective vaccine would not be widely available until mid-2021.

Trump also criticized Redfield for renewing his call for Americans to wear face masks as their best defense against spreading Covid-19. Biden routinely appears at functions wearing a mask. Trump almost never does, and he mocks Biden for doing so.

Biden's town hall comes two days after Trump appeared in a similar setting, also in Pennsylvania -- in Philadelphia.

Critics panned the president's performance, including his insistence that he had not downplayed the coronavirus threat, even though he acknowledged doing just that in a taped interview with journalist Bob Woodward. "I didn't downplay it," he told the town hall. "In many ways, I up-played it in terms of action."

The animosity has ramped up between Trump and Biden ahead of their first debate, scheduled for September 29 in Ohio. Biden has consistently led Trump in national polls.

He is also ahead in several key battlegrounds like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- all states won by Trump in his shock 2016 election victory -- although by dwindling margins.

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