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Polls also suggest one in 10 Americans have yet to make up their mind how to vote. But analysts said Tuesday night's debate - the first of three - probably would not make much difference. What were the key moments?
Overall, the minute debate in Cleveland, Ohio, was light on serious policy discussion. The tenor became clear early on as the two candidates sparred over healthcare.
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Hectoring from Mr Trump saw Mr Biden call the president a "clown". As they moved on to the Supreme Court, the rancour continued, with Mr Biden refusing to answer when asked if he would try to expand fod of judges. Forty-seven years [in politics], you've done nothing. They understand.
He initially said he would but when asked to denounce the far-right Proud Boys group by name, he sidestepped. Who are Proud Boys and antifa?
What did they say about coronavirus?
Mr Trump said: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left. Antifa, short for "anti-fascist", is a loose affiliation of far-left activists that often clash with the far right at street protests.
Shouting over Mr Trump, Mr Biden said: "My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem. He's overtaken it. He's fixed it. Mr Biden said Mr Tknight had "panicked" over the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more thanAmericans. Mr Trump objected to Mr Biden using the word "smart".
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A simple guide to the US election "You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class," the president said. Don't ever use that word.
Who won the debate? In a debate that was the political equivalent of a food fight, the winner is the man who emerged least covered in slop. On Tuesday night, that man was Joe Biden - if only because his main goal was to prove to Americans that he could hold up under pressure, that he had not lost a step due to his advancing age.
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ralked He had to show he could take a pie to the face, metaphorically speaking, and keep his cool. He mostly met that standard, although it was at least in part because Donald Trump, by his constant live sex on oklahoma cam and interruptions, seldom gave the former vice-president a chance to say something truly damaging to his own cause.
Twitter Trump - the unconventional, bombastic, insulting and rumour-mongering aspect of this president - was on full display throughout the hour and a half event. Unfortunately for the president, many Americans, even his own supporters, find his social media persona one of his more unattractive attributes.
What were the key moments?
Trump needed this debate to shake up a race that is tilting against him. Biden's lead has remained stable through turmoil on the streets and in the economy, and the Covid crisis.
Nothing about this hour-and-a-half free-for-all seems likely to alter the dynamics of this contest or change the minds of the one in 10 American voters who say they are still undecided although perhaps they'll resolve never to watch another one of these. Anything resembling a substantive exchange was buried in a cavalcade of bloviation and bickering - and because of fkr, it was a missed opportunity for the president.