Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden clashed Tuesday over the coronavirus pandemic and other issues in their first head-to-head debate ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. election, with Biden attempting to question the incumbent's competence.

The 90-minute debate in the Midwest state of Ohio, however, turned chaotic at times, with Trump persistently interrupting his opponent and Biden also snapping at Trump, leaving some analysts to wonder whether there was a clear winner in the event.

Biden, the 77-year-old former vice president who is leading Trump in national polls, sought to make his case that the administration is so lacking in a coronavirus plan that the 74-year-old incumbent is unfit to be granted another four years in office.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University on September 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Getty/Kyodo)

"The president has no plan. He hasn't laid out anything," Biden said, speaking of a pandemic that has cost the lives of more than 200,000 people, far more than in any other country, and millions of jobs in the United States.

Trump pinned the blame on China for the global spread of the coronavirus, while insisting that the U.S. economy is on track to make a recovery from the pandemic-triggered shutdown.

He also claimed that Biden would "destroy" the country by closing down the economy again.

The two also locked horns over the Supreme Court vacancy which Trump is trying to fill with a conservative following the death of liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the integrity of the election amid an expected surge in mail-in ballots due to the pandemic, and race issues.


Trump sought to justify his desire to secure Senate confirmation over his justice pick prior to the election by saying he has the "right to do" so as incumbent president, but Biden said the action should be taken after voters have had their say on who should lead the country in the election.

Trump also reiterated his claim that mail-in ballots could lead to voter "fraud," a move critics see as part of efforts to delegitimize any adverse outcome of the election. Biden hit back, saying that "there is no evidence at all" that such ballots could be a source of manipulation or cheating.

How Biden would perform on the stage was one of the main focuses leading up to the nationally televised debate as he has been far less visible than Trump during the pandemic, with many of his campaign events held virtually from his home in Delaware.

Trump, who has resumed in-person rallies despite the continuing spread of the virus, has often ridiculed his opponent as "Sleepy Joe Biden" while accusing him of staying in "his basement all day long" and lacking the energy to serve as president.

But Biden, who is known to be prone to verbal gaffes, finished the event having made no major blunders, even if he appeared to be riled at times by Trump's repeated interruptions, at one point telling Trump to "shut up."

Political analyst Sherry Jeffe declared Biden the winner of the debate, but said she thought he did not make the inroads in areas he could have in his arguments, including over the pandemic.


At the same time she criticized Trump's interruptions as "not a presidential performance," saying the event ended up as "just another campaign rally" to fire up his base.

Michael Genovese, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University, said "there wasn't a winner tonight."

But he added that there were two "losers" -- Trump, whose attacks against Biden's family, including questioning of his son Hunter Biden's business dealings, may be seen as having gone too far, and the American people, who "had an opportunity to do some comparison shopping" but were "robbed of that opportunity" by the president's debate performance.

"The world is looking at the United States, looking at that debate, and what is the image, what is the message we're giving up the United States?" he said.

The debate was the first of three between the candidates in the run-up to the election.

Trump, a New York real estate developer who had never held public office before he was elected president in 2016, has been an unconventional leader who defies diplomatic and political norms and fuels division among the public with his controversial remarks on racism, immigration and other issues.

He continued that on Tuesday when he failed to condemn white supremacy outright when prompted and appeared to call on a prominent group of right-wing extremists to "stand back and stand by."

While diplomacy was not among the topics debated Tuesday, Trump and Biden are known to differ on how they view the country's role in the world.

Trump has pressed ahead with his "America First" agenda, pulling the country out of international agreements and institutions he deems unfair.

Biden, for his part, has called for restoring U.S. leadership on the global stage and strengthening long-standing alliances with countries including Japan. He reiterated his pledge on Tuesday to rejoin the Paris climate accord, which Trump has decided to leave.

According to major poll tracking website Real Clear Politics, Biden has a lead of about 6 percentage points based on an average of recent national polls, although the margin narrowed from about a 10-point lead seen in late June.

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