US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden gave American voters a final opportunity to see them hash out their policy differences Thursday evening during the last presidential debate before Election Day.  

The political rivals clashed in a markedly more structured showdown than their first debate in late September due in some measure to new rules that allowed moderator Kristen Welker to cut off their microphones as their opponent answered initial questions.

The first of what was supposed to be three debates before Trump contracted COVID-19 repeatedly broke down into a shouting match with Trump more often than Biden speaking over his opponent.

But on Thursday, the American public was able to see the candidates lay bare their policy proposals as they drew stark differences from one another on a gamut of issues.

The candidates opened their political bout with the US’s COVID-19 outbreak as Biden quickly seized on the fact that the US is in the midst of the world’s worst pandemic, accounting for about one-fifth of all known fatalities.

“Anyone who is responsible for not taking control, in fact, saying ‘I take no responsibility’ initially, anyone who is responsible for that many deaths, should not remain as president of the United States of America,” he said.

The former vice president was referring to remarks Trump made in March when he said “I don’t take responsibility at all” for the outbreak as it was tearing through the US and sending states into lockdown. Trump instead sought to deflect blame on former US President Barack Obama.

In response to Biden’s charges, Trump defended his administration’s response, touting what he said is a mortality rate that “is down 85%” and maintaining that a vaccine will “be announced within weeks, and it’s going to be delivered.”

“It will go away, and as I say we’re rounding the turn. We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away,” Trump said of the virus despite warnings from his health experts who said one day prior that the US is heading starkly in the wrong direction.

Jay Butler, the number two infectious disease expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Wednesday that the health body is “seeing a distressing trend here in the United States with COVID-19 cases increasing in nearly 75% of the country.”

The US has recorded about 50,000 new daily cases in the past week as well as 700 deaths, according to CDC data.

The US is the nation worst affected by the coronavirus with over 8.4 million confirmed virus cases and 223,000 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Biden referenced the warnings issued by health experts, saying “We’re about to go into a dark winter, a dark winter, and he has no clear plan.”

The pandemic continues to rank highly among issues registered voters say are important for them, with 55% saying it is “very important,” according to data released Oct. 21 by the Pew Research Center. But it also found a stark partisan divide with only 24% of Republicans saying so, compared to over 80% of Democrats

Turning to race as the US continues to grapple with repeated incidences of police brutality and officer-involved shootings of minorities, Trump said he does understand why parents of Black and brown children have to go through what is known as “the talk” with their children.

That refers to a common discussion American minority parents have with their children in which they tell them how to interact with law enforcement, generally stating to be calm and obedient during those interactions. The talk is generally not had in white households.

The president further charged that Biden “did nothing” on criminal justice reform during his eight years as America’s vice president, saying of Biden, “I ran because of you. I ran because of Barack Obama, because you did a poor job. If I thought you did a good job I never would have run.”

Biden pledged that if he is elected to replace Trump, he is going to “fundamentally change the system,” which he said suffers from “institutional racism.”

“We’ve constantly been moving the needle further and further to inclusion, not exclusion. This is the first president who has come along and said ‘that’s the end of that. We’re not going to do that anymore,’” he said of Trump.

Trump continues to trail Biden by wide margins both nationally and in key battleground states and is hoping for an eleventh-hour change of fate with fewer than two weeks before the Nov. 3 election.

Over 49 million Americans have already cast their ballots in early voting, over 50% of whom are Democrats, according to a study by the US Elections Project. Republicans make up just over a quarter of those who have voted early while non-affiliated voters account for 22%.

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