President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden faced inquisitive voters on separate stages in different cities Thursday night in a substitute for the debate that was meant to be.
Here's how some of the rhetoric compared with the facts in the prime-time events and a day of campaigning. Scroll further to see key takeaways, photos from tonight's events and more.
Fact-checking the non-debate:
TRUMP: “We had the greatest economy in the history of our country.”
THE FACTS: The numbers show it wasn’t the greatest in U.S. history.
Did the U.S. have the most jobs on record before the pandemic? Sure, the population had grown. The 3.5% unemployment rate before the recession was at a half-century low, but the percentage of people working or searching for jobs was still below a 2000 peak.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer looked at Trump’s economic growth record this month. Growth under Trump averaged 2.48% annually before the pandemic, only slightly better than the 2.41% gains achieved during Barack Obama’s second term. By contrast, the economic expansion that began in 1982 during Ronald Reagan’s presidency averaged 4.2% a year.
So Trump is wrong.
TRUMP: “When I see thousands of ballots dumped in a garbage can and they happen to have my name on it? I’m not happy about it.”
THE FACTS: Nobody has seen that. Contrary to Trump’s repeated, baseless attacks on voting security, voting and election fraud is vanishingly rare. No cases involving thousands of ballots dumped in the trash have been reported in this election.
Trump has cited a case of military ballots marked for him being thrown in the trash in Pennsylvania as evidence of a possible plot to steal the election. But he leaves out the details: County election officials say that the seven ballots, along with two unopened ones, were accidentally tossed in an elections office in a Republican-controlled county by a single contract worker and that authorities were swiftly called.
The Brennan Center for Justice in 2017 ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections.
In the five states that regularly send ballots to all voters, there have been no major cases of fraud or difficulty counting the votes.
TRUMP: "Just the other day they came out with a statement that 85% of the people that wear masks catch it so ... that’s what I heard and that’s what I saw.” — town-hall event in Miami.
TRUMP, on his rallies: “What I do is outside is a big thing. And if you look at those, people, they really are wearing masks. I’ll tell you, I looked last night in Iowa — there were many, many people wearing masks. But then you see CDC comes out with a statement that 85% of the people wearing masks catch it.” — Fox Business interview.
TRUMP, looking out over his crowd: “Look at all the masks. You know, they keep saying, ‘nobody wears a mask, wear the mask.’ Although then they come out with things today. Did you see CDC? That 85% of the people wearing a mask catch it, OK?” — remarks at rally during the day in Greenville, North Carolina.
THE FACTS: He's botching the study's findings, repeatedly. The study cited, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not find that 85% of mask wearers catch COVID-19. If that were the case, the majority of Americans would be infected.
It found something quite different: that 85% of the small group of COVID-19 patients surveyed — about 150 on this question — reported they had worn a mask often or always around the time they would have become infected.
The group's exposure to potentially infected people in the community varied. Most reported shopping or being in a home with multiple people. But they were twice as likely to have eaten at a restaurant, where masks are set aside for the meal, than were uninfected people in a control group.
Most studies have shown that wearing masks reduces the transmission of the virus by blocking respiratory droplets. Several studies have also shown that masks could offer some protection for the people who wear them.
The findings were in a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published last month.
TRUMP, reacting to the news that people associated with the Biden campaign on a recent flight with Harris tested positive for COVID-19: “We extend our best wishes, which is more than they did to me, but that’s OK.” — Greenville rally.
THE FACTS: That’s false.
Hours after Trump’s early morning announcement on Oct. 2 that he had tested positive, both Biden and Harris sent their wishes for a quick recovery via Twitter.
“Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery,” Biden wrote. “We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”
Harris tweeted a similar message “wishing President Trump and the First Lady a full and speedy recovery. We’re keeping them and the entire Trump family in our thoughts.”
The Biden campaign at the time also announced it would stop running negative ads, with the candidate tweeting that “this cannot be a partisan moment” after the news that Trump was going to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment of his coronavirus infection. Biden’s camp resumed the advertising after Trump was released from Walter Reed.
At least three people connected to Biden’s campaign have tested positive for the coronavirus, leading the campaign to suspend in-person events for Harris through Monday.
BIDEN, answering questions in Philadelphia on ABC: “The crime bill itself did not have mandatory sentences, except for two things, it had three strikes and you’re out, which I voted against in the crime bill.”
THE FACTS: That's misleading. He is understating the impact of the bill and the influence he brought to bear in getting it passed into law.
Biden wrote and voted for that sweeping 1994 crime bill, which included money for more prisons, authorized the federal death penalty and called for a mandatory life sentence for three-time violent offenders – the so-called three strikes provision.
He did call the three-strikes rule “wacko” at one point, even as he was helping to write the bill. Whatever his reservations about certain provisions, he ultimately voted for the legislation, which included the three-strikes rule and has come to be seen in the Black Lives Matter era as a heavy-handed and discriminatory tool of the justice system.
BIDEN in Philadelphia, on U.S. troops in Afghanistan: “They have more people there now, by the way, than when I left, when we left in Afghanistan.”
THE FACTS: Not so.
The U.S. now has about 5,000 troops in Afghanistan. The troop level did not dip below 8,400 before President Barack Obama left office. The U.S. had about 8,500 troops in Afghanistan during Trump’s first several months in office.
The number of troops in Afghanistan reached 100,000 in 2010, before Obama took office. Obama did withdraw thousands of troops during his two terms, but he was unable to fulfill promises to decrease the number of troops to 5,500 toward the final years of his presidency.
Associated Press writers Josh Boak, David Klepper, Darlene Superville and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.
The Associated Press has been fact-checking politicians since 1996, when Bill Clinton was president. These are not opinion pieces but instead are straight-news items that adhere to AP's Statement of News Values. The AP encourages readers to reach out with comments, fact-checking suggestions and corrections at FactCheck@ap.org. Learn more about the team and how this content is produced at apnews.com.
Other takeaways and key moments:
Trump 'defeated' Guthrie
A spokesperson for Trump’s campaign is declaring that the president “defeated” town hall moderator, Savannah Guthrie, and derided the NBC “Today” host as a “surrogate” for Biden’s campaign.
Campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh also said after Thursday’s event that the president “masterfully handled Guthrie’s attacks and interacted warmly and effectively with the voters in the room.”
What happens if Biden loses
Asked what he would do if he lost the election, Biden said Thursday that he hopes that if he fails to beat Trump, then it doesn’t mean “we are as racially, ethnically and religiously at odds with one another as it appears the president wants us to be.”
Biden says if he loses he will return to teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. However, he also said he would continue to press for racial justice, deferring to the leaders such as the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis as having made a bigger impact than he ever would.
There should be 'zero discrimination'
Biden says there should be “zero discrimination” against transgender people. He said he would reverse Trump’s moves to revoke protections for transgender people against sex discrimination in health care and restrict military service by transgender men and women. He also condemned violence against transgender women of color.
Trump on Roe v. Wade
Trump was asked about the ruling establishing abortion rights nationwide during a town hall in Florida. He said, “I don’t want to do anything to influence anything right now.” Trump, who nominated Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the Supreme Court, says he worries that discussing his viewpoint could be seen as “trying to give her a signal” on how to rule.
Biden on the Supreme Court
Biden says he is willing to take a position before Election Day on the idea of expanding the Supreme Court “depending on how” Republicans handle Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. He said he’s “not a fan” of so-called court packing. But he also said he believes Republicans are violating the spirit of the Constitution with a confirmation process while people are already voting in the presidential election.
On the 1994 crime bill
Biden failed to acknowledge the criticisms of the 1994 crime bill, which he as a member of the Senate helped write and pass and which has been used to illustrate systemic racism in the nation. However, last year Biden publicly accepted responsibility for his part in the passage of the legislation, especially that which toughened sentences for crack cocaine possession, calling it a “big mistake” for its damage to the Black community.
'$400 million is a peanut'
Trump acknowledged he may owe $400 million as part of his business dealings, but he’s not saying to whom he owes money. Trump was pressed on a New York Times report citing tax returns showing he has business debts exceeding $400 million.
He insisted that he didn’t owe any money to Russia or any “sinister people.” He described his debts as a “very very small percentage.” He said: “$400 million is a peanut.”
'We should be on the same side'
The first half of Trump’s town hall was dominated by testy exchanges with Guthrie after she pushed him on a variety of issues. Under the intense questioning, Trump told Guthrie “we should be on the same side.”
Guthrie pressed Trump to say when he last tested negative for the coronavirus before his positive diagnosis earlier this month. He did not say.
She pressed him on his prolific tweeting, telling him he’s not someone’s “crazy uncle” who can tweet whatever they want. He said the tweet she focused on was a retweet.
Guthrie also challenged Trump on his dubious claims about mask-wearing, telling the president that his own government experts are “all in unison” on their benefits.
Trump on voter fraud
Trump inaccurately contended there is a tremendous problem with voter fraud and takes issue with FBI Director Christopher Wray saying last month that he has not seen evidence of a widespread issue.
Trump said at a town hall event in Miami: “Well, then, he’s not doing a very good job.”
Biden on taxes
Biden said he doesn’t plan to eliminate all the tax cuts enacted by Trump, just those that apply to the top earners.
Referencing tax cuts for the top 1%, Biden said: “That’s what I’m talking about eliminating, not all the tax cuts that are out there.”
More town hall coverage:
The night in photos: