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What was bound to be a tense debate did not disappoint as the two men traded blows during the 90-minute showdown in Cleveland, Ohio. President Trump’s record on the coronavirus pandemic was on table as well as healthcare and the economy.
He accused the Democrats of trying to steal the election with mail-in ballots, which he said would open the door for widespread voter fraud.
Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News struggled to exert control over the debate as Mr Trump repeatedly ignored his requests to allow Mr Biden to speak.
In the first of their three face-offs, the Republican president was reprimanded for repeatedly interrupting his opponent.
At one point the Democratic presidential nominee said to Mr Trump: “Will you shut up, man?”
The political brawl also saw Mr Trump sidestep when he was asked to condemn white supremacists.
There was persistent name-calling from both sides, with Mr Biden branding the president a “clown” and “Putin’s puppy”.
Interrupted repeatedly by Mr Trump, an exasperated Mr Biden exclaimed during a back-and-forth on taxes: “You’re the worst president America has ever had.”
The former vice president also called his opponent a “racist” for banning racial-sensitivity training in his administration.
Mr Trump brought up Mr Biden’s son’s struggles with drugs and mocked his opponent’s academic performance at the University of Delaware.
The former vice-president said he was proud of his son Hunter for overcoming addiction.
According to the Washington Post, Biden graduated 506th in a class of 688.
The president said: “He was the lowest or almost the lowest in your class.
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“Don’t ever use the word smart with me because you know what, there’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”
He also suggested Mr Biden could not drum up enough interest to hold large in-person rallies, when the Democrat candidate criticised him for flouting social-distancing rules at campaign events.
Mr Trump shot back: “If you could get the crowds, you would have done the same thing.”
The debate, which kicked off at 9pm in Cleveland (2am UK time) came as more than 1.3 million Americans had already cast early ballots.
With time running out to change minds or influence the small sliver of undecided voters, the stakes were enormous as the two candidates took the stage five weeks before Election Day.
A recent poll showed Mr Biden ahead, with 47 percent of respondents saying they would likely vote for him if the election was held now.
Forty-five percent said the same for Mr Trump.
But Mr Trump is fast gaining ground and is three points ahead from where he was in a similar poll conducted in August.
The survey was carried out from September 22 to 24, with 1,314 voters taking part.
The ballot was a collaboration of the Centre for American Political Studies at Harvard University and The Harris Poll.
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