Joe Biden was tossed softball questions from mostly all Democratic voters at a 75-minute CNN town hall on Thursday night in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, two nights after President Trump was hammered by uncommitted voters in Philadelphia.
The septuagenarian candidate was asked such questions as how he would keep American workplaces safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether he’d benefited from white privilege, and how he would bring the nation together, with little follow up from moderator Anderson Cooper.
With only 12 days until the first presidential debate, Biden attempted to dodge any questions that were remotely difficult and was confronted with only three people who voted for Trump in 2016 — appearing to mock one of them for that vote.
“How ya feeling now, Julie?” a smirking Biden asked Julie Masser Ballay when Cooper said she voted for the president four years ago.
The CEO of her family’s potato farm ignored the slight and hammered Biden on the Obama-era Clean Water Rule which she said placed an “extreme burden” on farmers, and she pressed him on the fact the Green New Deal that his climate plan embraces did the same.
“No, it doesn’t,” Biden said, interrupting Masser Ballay mid question.
“Excuse me. If I could finish,” she responded, prompting Biden to apologize.
Biden also avoided directly answering another Trump supporter’s question on how he would get Americans off federal benefits and back to work amid the pandemic, and entirely dodged one woman who asked him if he supported the Green New Deal being pushed by the left flank of his party.
“Do you think it’s too much?” Cooper pressed Biden.
“No, I don’t,” the former veep admitted, before quickly adding: “I have my own deal.”
The unusual drive-in town hall format chosen by CNN was a first for the presidential race and symbolic of the pandemic which has become the most pressing issue ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Biden appeared on stage before a parking lot full of cars at the PNC Field in Moosic, Penn., just a few miles from his hometown of Scranton, with 250 voters sitting next to their vehicles to watch Biden speak.
“It’s good to be home,” the 77-year-old said, emphasizing his working-class roots that his family left before he was 10.
Biden’s warm reception from voters who appeared to have already made up their minds about him — one woman lamenting the fact that her Biden yard sign was engulfed by a sea of Trump flags — stood in stark contrast to the hostile welcome the president received in Philadelphia on Tuesday night.
At an ABC town hall moderated by George Stephanopolous, Trump was hammered by undecided voters on his response to the pandemic and his handling of historic racial unrest.
“Why would you downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low income families and minority communities?” one woman asked Trump in response to his comment to author Bob Woodward.
“Well I didn’t downplay it, I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action. My action was very strong,” Trump told her.
Biden, however, was not asked about his 47-year record in Washington, which included a controversial vote for the war in Iraq, and was not pulled up by Cooper when he bragged about reforming unfair cocaine sentencing that he was responsible for introducing in the 1980s.
The former veep also escaped without any questions on a congressional investigation into son Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian gas company while the elder Biden was in charge of policy in the region.
In a statement, the Trump campaign said that every question at the debate was “an invitation for him to attack President Trump” and also rebuked Cooper for offering “almost no pushback.”
“At no time did anyone question Biden about his economic record or his plan to raise taxes by $4 trillion while the economy is in rapid recovery,” Trump 2020 communications director Tim Murtaugh said.
“At no time did anyone ask Biden why he opposed President Trump’s travel restrictions on China at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, which experts say saved thousands of American lives.”
Pennsylvania is one of many must-win battleground states this election, with Trump triumphing over Hillary Clinton by less than 50,000 votes in 2016.
Biden is now leading by 4.3 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average — an advantage that has shrunk in half since July.
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