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Microphones to be muted as Trump, Biden face off in final presidential debate

US President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
US President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. © Jim Watson/Saul Loeb, AFP
8 min

US President Donald Trump squares off against Democratic challenger Joe Biden on Thursday in what promises to be a bruising final debate with less than two weeks left in the fight for the White House. After the last televised debate was marred by serial interruptions and unintelligible cross-talk, tonight's moderator will have the power to mute the candidates' mics. 

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Follow our live blog of the debate on FRANCE 24 starting at 9pm local time. 

The debate in the southern city of Nashville comes during the final sprint to the November 3 election amid fears that a delayed or unclear result on election night could set off weeks of court battles or protests. 

Trump has stepped up his attacks on Biden as he fights to hold on to the White House after four tumultuous years.

To cut down on the interruptions that marked the last debate, during the two minutes that each candidates has to respond to the moderator's questions only their mic will be live

Trump has already lashed out at the new rules. 

"I think the mute is very unfair and I think it's very bad," Trump said this week, branding debate moderator Kristen Welker a "radical Democrat". 

Trump, 74, has been hitting multiple rallies per day as he seeks to fire up enthusiasm for his candidacy as most polls show Biden leading the race. 

Former president Barack Obama stumped for his former vice president for the first time on Wednesday, urging Democrats to not be lulled into complacency by Biden's lead in the polls. 

He issued a stark reminder of 2016, when most surveys showed Democrat Hillary Clinton as the favourite only for her and her supporters to be shocked by a Trump victory on Election Day. 

"We can't be complacent. I don't care about the polls," Obama told a drive-in rally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of a handful of battleground states expected to decide the election. 

"There were a whole bunch of polls last time. Didn't work out. Because a whole bunch of folks stayed at home. And got lazy and complacent. Not this time. Not in this election."

Obama told supporters that too much was at stake to have four more years of Trump leading the nation, seeking to contrast his successor – a real estate mogul and former reality TV star – with Biden, a lawyer by training and career politician.   

Impact of Covid-19

Trump, for his part, visited North Carolina, another of the battleground states, on Wednesday as he sought to recapture the enthusiasm of four years ago.

Trump's campaign message has included falsely telling Americans that the coronavirus outbreak is nearly over and launching attacks on Biden's son Hunter for his past drug use or business dealings in Ukraine. A Republican-led Senate investigation into Hunter Biden concluded last month finding nothing illegal.  

The final debate comes a day after the number of coronavirus deaths reported in the United States reached its highest in two months, suggesting the pandemic was gaining fresh momentum as cooler weather sets in. US Covid-19 deaths averaged about 700 a day for much of October before rising to 1,237 on Wednesday according to a Reuters analysis, the most since August 19.

The coronavirus has killed more than 220,000 people in the United States and hobbled the world's largest economy, prompting fierce criticism of the president's handling of the crisis. Thousands are struggling to make rent amid widespread layoffs in certain sectors as Democrats and Republicans struggle to find common ground for a new coronavirus relief package. A deal is unlikely to be reached before the election amid stiff opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

A Quinnipiac University Poll of likely voters released on Wednesday gave Biden a 51-43 lead in Pennsylvania, which Trump won by a narrow margin in 2016. Trump is also trailing Biden in the national polls and another Quinnipiac poll spelled potential trouble for his reelection hopes.

The poll had the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in a 47-47 dead heat in Texas, a state which Trump won by nine points four years ago and which hasn't voted for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976. 

More than 40 million Americans have already voted, according to the US Elections Project of the University of Florida, nearly 30 percent of the total turnout in 2016.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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