US elections: Trump, Biden prepare for primetime town halls after canceled debate

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After US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, former VP Joe Biden, refused to participate in a second public debate for various reasons, the two presidential candidates will take part in separate televised town halls.

Nearly 15 million Americans, a record for this date, have cast ballots, according to the US Elections Project at the University of Florida, as voters seek to avoid in-person lines on Election Day because of concerns about the novel coronavirus.

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North Carolina, a highly competitive state, began more than two weeks of in-person early voting on Thursday. Local news reports showed long lines of voters eager to cast ballots, where Trump is set to hold an afternoon rally in Greenville in the eastern part of the state.

Trump’s campaign is counting on a surge of last-minute votes.

Four years ago, at this stage of the campaign, more than twice as many people were similarly wavering between Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Thursday’s town halls, in which each candidate will field questions from voters, will take place at 8 pm EDT (0000 GMT), with Trump on NBC from Miami and Biden on ABC from Philadelphia.

The commission in charge of organizing the second debate between Trump and Biden said it would be held virtually after the president contracted the coronavirus. But Trump refused and suggested to move the debate back one week. Biden and his team then rejected after having scheduled a town hall.

A final debate is still scheduled for Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.

On Thursday, the Biden campaign said two people involved in the campaign had tested positive for COVID-19, including one on the staff of US Senator Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate.

Although the campaign said neither Biden nor Harris was in close contact with the people, Harris’ travel is on hold until after Sunday, “in line with our campaign’s commitment to the highest levels of precaution.”

Trump has returned to the campaign trail after spending several days being treated for the virus in a military hospital.

NBC said on Wednesday that Clifford Lane, clinical director at the National Institutes of Health, and the government’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, had concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that Trump was no longer “shedding infectious virus.”

The election could be the most closely contested in recent memory due to a deeply divided electorate.

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