WASHINGTON – Their face-to-face debate canceled, President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will instead hold dueling town halls Thursday on competing television networks.
NBC announced Wednesday it will host a Trump town hall at 8 p.m. EDT on Thursday – the same time at which ABC will be hosting a similar event with Biden in Philadelphia.
The Trump event will be in Miami, which was supposed to be the site of a second debate between the two candidates. That showdown was canceled after Trump refused to participate once it was moved to a virtual format because of his COVID-19 diagnosis.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, which sponsored the first Trump-Biden debate on Sept. 29 in Cleveland, called for the second contest to be virtual because of the threat of contagion from Trump. After Trump rejected the idea, the parties were unable to agree on an alternate format.
The debate also fell apart at a time when Trump began trailing Biden in some polls by double digits, and as the Democratic challenger builds leads in key states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Now Trump will meet with "a group of Florida voters on critical issues impacting their vote less than three weeks before Election Day," NBC said in announcing its Miami town hall as a debate replacement.
Coming two weeks after Trump tested positive for COVID-19, the event "will take place outdoors at the Pérez Art Museum Miami in accordance with guidelines set forth by health officials and consistent with all government regulations," NBC said.
Trump, NBC moderator Savannah Guthrie, and the crowd will be socially distanced, the network said.
NBC also released a statement by Dr. Clifford Lane, clinical director at the National Institutes of Health, saying that he and infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci have reviewed the president's case and cleared him for the public appearance.
The doctors concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that Trump is “not shedding infectious virus," NBC said.
In announcing its Biden town hall last week, ABC said the event will be held "in accordance with state and local government health and safety regulations, as well as guidelines set forward by health officials."
Trump physician Sean Conley reported that the president has tested negative for COVID-19 in recent days, but he was not specific. Aides have not said whether Trump passed the more reliable PCR test to prove he is truly virus-free.
The competing town halls give Trump and Biden one of their last chances to appeal to a large group of voters nationwide.
The NBC event will be simulcast on companion outlets MSNBC and CNBC. Biden's town hall will be on ABC only.
The two candidates are still scheduled to hold a final debate Oct. 22 – a week from Thursday – in Nashville, Tennessee.
Political analysts lamented the competing town halls because voters won't be able to see both candidates at the same time.
"Ideally, those inclined to support one candidate would watch the other & learn something," tweeted Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "Now most Americans will likely view their preferred candidate. We already have this: it's called cable tv."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump, Joe Biden to hold competing town halls Thursday