NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CN) — Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden sparred Thursday night in Nashville, making their pitches to American voters 11 days before many will head to the polls.
While the first debate featured a chaotic fight, Thursday's event, moderated by NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker, was a largely orderly back-and-forth through some of the candidates’ positions.
Among their statements, Trump claimed a vaccine for Covid-19 would be announced in a few weeks and Biden said he plans to stop subsidies from flowing to the oil industry to eventually shutter it.
Before the debate, the Trump campaign said the president would focus on rebuilding the economy and go after Biden for what he said are Biden’s connections with China.
TJ Ducklo, spokesman for the Biden campaign, told Courthouse News before the event that Biden intended to speak directly to the American people about issues such as getting the virus under control and protecting preexisting conditions.
The accusations Trump intends to levy against the former vice president, Ducklo said, are tired accusations that the president has launched before.
The candidates faced-off at Belmont University’s Curb Event Center, a building that can hold 5,500 people, but because of Covid-19 protocols, only 200 people were in the hall.
Many attendees of the event wore blue bands on their wrists, showing they tested negative for Covid-19 before entering the debate area. In the morning, a small plane circled the city towing a banner: “Unborn Black Lives Matter,” it read and showed a picture that appeared to be an aborted fetus.
The civility of Thursday’s debate came because of a tweak in debate rules that gave each candidate two minutes to answer a question while their opponent's mic sat muted.
The result was the kind of debate John Koch was looking for. The director of Debate at neighboring Vanderbilt University said the change gave voters the ability to make more informed decisions about the candidates.
"Tonight, we did increase knowledge about the candidates and the issues," Koch told Courthouse News after the debate. "I think the mute function worked the way it was supposed to — to give them some uninterrupted time to explain their positions and their records."
It gave Biden the opportunity to explain his plans for tackling Covid-19 and health care, according to Koch. At the same time, it allowed Trump to highlight some of Biden's record.
And that was due in part to Welker, Koch said, who probably sacrificed some of the questions she wanted to ask in order to let the candidates engage, yet pushed them along when the exchanges yielded little information.
"One of the complaints I often make about moderators is that they shut down when engagement is happening. I thought she did a really good job letting natural engagement play out, give them time to offer rebuttal back and forth," Koch said.
In the same week that the debate came together, a perimeter fence ringed the debate hall and dogs sniffed the bags and packages entering the area, three Nashville-area hospitals issued a joint statement urging local residents to take more precautions against the coronavirus.
Over the last two weeks, cases of Covid-19 in the Nashville area increased 50%. Hospitalizations for Covid-19 rose 40%, affecting the ability for local hospitals to handle other health needs.
In this 11th hour of the race, Biden leads against the incumbent president in national polls. Real Clear Politics average polling shows Biden leading the race by 7.9%, based on polls conducted in the last few days.
And voters, according to the results of a poll Pew Research Center released Tuesday, tend to say they trust Biden in uniting a divided country, tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and filling future vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court.