President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden were holding competing televised town halls Thursday, as a coronavirus case in the entourage of Kamala Harris forced Biden's vice presidential pick to suspend travel.
Trump, well behind in the polls ahead of November 3, was set to try and drown out Biden by holding a rival town hall on NBC at exactly the same primetime slot as the Democratic candidate was already scheduled to appear on ABC.
"Watch tonight. We're going have a little entertainment," Trump told his latest rally in Greenville, North Carolina.
Originally, both candidates had been meant to meet for what would have been their second of three presidential debates.
The first, which took place in Philadelphia, was a brutal affair in which Trump repeatedly talked over the top of Biden and the Democrat told him to "shut up." The follow-up, however, was scrapped after organizers switched to a virtual format, citing Trump's coronavirus infection, and the president refused to accept the arrangement.
Trump, who says he is clear of Covid-19 and got back on the campaign trail Monday, has rallies booked around the country for every night this week.
He predicted to his supporters in North Carolina that Biden would be given an easier time by the moderator and audience over on ABC. "I'm being set up tonight," he said.
The decision by NBC to accept a Trump appearance at the same time as Biden on ABC likely means that few Americans will get to see and contrast the two men.
This may suit reality television veteran Trump, who has often sought to counter-program his Democratic opponents and hog the media limelight.
But with only 19 days until the election, he is running out of time to overtake Biden, who has run a much quieter campaign focused on Americans' unhappiness with Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Even a close US Senate ally to Trump, Lindsey Graham, said Thursday that Biden may be on his way to victory.
"You all have a good chance of winning the White House," he told Democratic colleagues at the opening of a hearing on Trump's latest conservative Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
Harris on hold
The coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 217,000 Americans, continued to disrupt the already tense presidential election.
Following Trump's temporary time out from the campaign while he recovered last week, Biden's vice presidential running mate Harris has now put her own travel on hold after her communications director tested positive.
Harris staffer Liz Allen and a flight crew member were diagnosed late Wednesday, Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon said in a statement.
Harris did not need to quarantine, O'Malley Dillon added, but "out of an abundance of caution" would cancel travel and campaign virtually before hitting the road again October 19.
Both individuals flew with Harris on October 8. The campaign said they wore masks and were not within six feet (two meters) of Harris for more than 15 minutes.
"I wasn't in close contact -- as defined by the CDC -- with either during the 2 days prior to their positive tests," tweeted Harris, a 55-year-old US senator.
"I've had 2 negative tests this week & am not showing symptoms."
Biden has reported multiple negative coronavirus tests since Trump's Covid-19 diagnosis on October 1, the latest dating from Wednesday night.
The campaign said that yet another person who tested positive had traveled on Biden's plane this week but had been so far away that the candidate was in no danger and doctors said "there is no need" for him to quarantine.
While Trump boasts of being "immune" to the coronavirus and inaccurately calls experimental therapeutic drugs that were given to him a "cure," he also continues to be dogged by the pandemic's fallout.
On Wednesday, his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, revealed that their son Barron, 14, had contracted the virus, but was now negative.
The timing of twin town halls has not been welcomed by all.
"Having dueling town halls is bad for democracy," tweeted Katie Couric, a longtime host of NBC's "Today" show.
"Voters should be able to watch both and I don't think many will," she said, adding that the matchup would benefit Trump "because people like to watch his unpredictability."
But David Canon, chair of the political science department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Trump may have committed a "tactical error" by giving up the chance for a head-to-head debate.
"He needed the debates more than Biden did," Canon told AFP. "He's the one that needs to change the momentum in the election."