2020 election live updates: Biden bests Trump in town hall ratings, per early estimates; Hogan writes in Reagan rather than vote for Trump

Sean Rossman

At separate town hall events Thursday, the two people vying for the presidency answered questions from voters, though not in the intended debate format. Donald Trump and Joe Biden were in different states, in front of different crowds and on competing television channels  

Trump refused to condemn QAnon and didn't deny having $400 million in debt during his NBC event while Biden gave a vague answer on court packing and was pressed by an African American voter on how he would turn out the Black vote live on ABC. 

With just 18 days to before Election Day, the two campaigns are waging ferocious advertising campaigns in a half-dozen battleground states with Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania the crown jewels that could decide the race.

The latest: 

  • Town halls: Missed Thursday's dueling town halls?: Here are our takeaways
  • Compare/contrast: You saw how Trump and Biden stacked up on the town hall stage, what about the international stage? 
  • Sasse slams Trump: Republican Sen. Ben Sasse slammed President Donald Trump during a call with constituents this week, saying he "kisses dictators' butts" and has "flirted with white supremacists."
  • Where are the candidates?: President Donald Trump campaigns in Florida and Georgia today, while Democrat Joe Biden speaks with voters in Michigan. Vice President Mike Pence is in North Carolina while Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, takes part in a virtual fundraiser. 

📆 18 days until Election Day, six days until the final presidential debate, 96 days until Inauguration Day, 78 days left in 2020.

🗳️ Voting: See USA TODAY's Voter Guide for information on registering to votewhen your state begins voting and what the candidates think about the issues

We will update this article throughout the day. You can follow all of USA TODAY's politics reporters on Twitter or subscribe to our daily On Politics newsletter

 Trump slams town hall moderator Savannah Guthrie

President Donald Trump lashed out Friday at Savannah Guthrie, arguing the NBC News journalist was filled with “anger and hatred” when she grilled him in a televised town hall the night before.

Trump groused during a pair of campaign rallies in Florida and Georgia that Guthrie’s tough line of questioning during the Thursday night event was inappropriate and unfair.

“It was, like, her face – the anger, the craziness,” Trump told supporters at an airport campaign rally in Macon, Georgia.

In an often testy exchange, Guthrie sparred with Trump over his response to the coronavirus pandemic, demanded to know why he won’t condemn the conspiracy group QAnon and pointedly asked him if he owed $400 million in taxes.

“She was out of line,” Trump said.

Earlier Friday, Trump complained to supporters at a rally in Ocala, Florida, that Democrat Joe Biden was fed much easier questions during a separate town hall that aired live on ABC at the same time as his event. Biden was treated “like you’re talking to a child,” he said.

Though he had harsh words for Guthrie, Trump said her interrogation was “small potatoes” when compared to dealing with world leaders.

“If you can't handle Savannah,” he said, “you cannot handle Putin and President Xi and Kim Jong Un.”

Michael Collins

Trump delivers ‘Hope’ in Florida

President Donald Trump promised supporters in Florida on Friday that he would deliver a message of “opportunity, optimism and hope.”

Then he gave them Hope Hicks.

Trump coaxed Hicks, a senior White House adviser who tested positive for coronavirus on Oct. 1, to briefly take the stage during a campaign rally in Ocala, Florida.

Hicks, one of Trump’s closest aides, is on a two-day campaign swing with him through North Carolina, Florida and Georgia. The trip marks her first public appearance since recovering from COVID-19.

Trump, who spent three days in the hospital after announcing on Oct. 2 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, marveled at how Hicks recovered from her illness “so fast.”

“That’s called being young and strong,” he said.

Hicks took the stage to chants of “We want Hope!” and joked that she and Trump could now share a microphone. She spoke just briefly.

“I have stage fright,” she said.

Michael Collins

Biden: Trump has ‘gone around the bend’

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wasn’t able to debate President Donald Trump on Thursday, as the candidates held dueling town halls, but Biden ridiculed claims the country is on the mend from COVID-19.

Biden got laughs at a Michigan speech when he said he “didn’t have the pleasure” of hearing Trump’s comments at a town hall on NBC News because he was “doing one myself” on ABC News. But Biden said Trump appeared to deny the number of cases is rising as projected, with 218,000 deaths and 8 million people diagnosed.

“He said, ‘We have turned the corner,’” Biden told about two dozen voters at the Beach Woods Recreation Center in Southfield. “As my grandfather Finnegan might say, were he here, ‘He’s gone around the bend.’ Turn the corner? My Lord. It’s not disappearing, in fact it’s on the rise again. It’s getting worse as predicted.”

Trump said at his town hall that the country avoided 2 million deaths projected if no action had been taken, such as shutting down the economy temporarily. He also promoted the development of medications including one he took for his diagnosis and hospitalization earlier this month.

“We have done an amazing job,” Trump said. “And it’s rounding the corner and we have the vaccines coming and we have the therapies coming.”

Bart Jansen

Topics for final presidential debate announced

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will face some familiar topics at the final presidential debate Thursday.

The coronavirus pandemic, race in America and climate change are among the subjects they’ll likely be asked about, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced Friday.

Moderator Kristen Welker, White House correspondent for NBC News, may also cover the broad topics of “American families,” national security and leadership.

The topics could be changed, depending on news developments before Thursday. The 90-minute debate is scheduled to begin at 9:00 p.m. ET from Belmont University in Nashville.

The debate commission canceled the second debate after Trump refused to take part when it was moved to a virtual format.

Instead, Trump and Biden participated in separate town halls.

During Biden’s town hall on ABC, he said he expects to debate Trump as scheduled on Oct. 22. He also expects the candidates to be tested before the event.

During Trump’s town hall, the president said he “probably” was tested before the first presidential debate on Sept. 29.

— Maureen Groppe

Trump vows to deliver vaccine to nursing home residents at no cost

President Donald Trump on Friday announced that his administration had finalized a partnership with CVS and Walgreens that would enable nursing home residents to receive a vaccine at no cost.

The president, 74, vowed a vaccine would be available before the end of the year despite his own federal health experts saying that timeline is highly unlikely, and vowed that senior citizens would be "first in line."

"I am moving heaven and earth to safeguard our Seniors from the China Virus, to deliver life-saving therapies in record time, and to distribute a safe and effective vaccine before the end of the year," Trump told a crowd at an event billed as "Protecting America's Seniors" in Fort Myers, Florida. "Seniors will be the first in line for the vaccine."

Trump is trying to shore up support among senior citizens, a key voting bloc that helped him win four years ago but which recent polling suggests has eroded in recent months.

"I am deeply aware that America’s 54 million seniors have borne the heaviest burden of the China Virus," Trump said.

A CNN/SSRS poll from Oct. 6 showed Joe Biden leading Trump by 21 points among voters 65 and older. But a recent Washington-ABC News poll found that the septuagenarian candidates are tied among older voters.

Trump, who has been widely criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has zeroed in on older voters in the final stretch of the campaign.

In recent days the Trump campaign has released a television ad pitching the president as a better advocate for the elderly while last week Trump shared a video on Twitter in which he directly spoke to seniors and vowed to make the drugs he was treated with for COVID-19 more widely available.

The president on Friday opened up about his own experience with the coronavirus and boasted about the experimental antibody treatment by New York biotech company Regeneron.

"It's really amazing what happened because I wasn't feeling great and the next day I wake up and I'm saying, like, 'Who can I fight today?'" he told the crowd.

Biden, for his part, is making a direct appeal to older voters.

The 77-year-old visited a community center for seniors in Florida earlier this week, where he said: "The only senior that Donald Trump cares about - the only senior - is the senior Donald Trump."

Courtney Subramanian

GOP Maryland governor writes-in Ronald Reagan rather than vote for Trump, Biden

Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan wrote-in former President Ronald Reagan on the ballot he mailed in last week rather than vote for either President Donald Trump or his Democratic challenger Joe Biden. 

The news, which was first reported Friday by The Washington Post, was confirmed on Twitter later that day by Hogan's communications director Mike Ricci.

"I know it’s simply symbolic. It’s not going to change the outcome in my state. But I thought it was important to just cast a vote that showed the kind of person I’d like to see in office," Hogan told the Post. 

Hogan, a fierce critic of the president, did not vote for Trump in 2016 either, writing in his father, Larry Hogan, Sr., instead of voting for Trump or Hillary Clinton that year. Hogan told the Post he considered Reagan "my hero in politics" along with his father, Larry Hogan Sr., a three-term Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

– William Cummings

Election 2020:Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan writes in Ronald Reagan rather than vote for Trump

Nielsen ratings numbers show Biden beat Trump

The dueling town halls on competing networks crowned a winner, at least ratings-wise: Nielsen ratings estimates declare Joe Biden the victor over Donald Trump.

The ratings service says 13.9 million viewers tuned into the former vice president and Democratic candidate's town hall on ABC from 8 to 10 p.m. EDT Thursday night, moderated by George Stephanopoulos, while 10.7 million watched Savannah Guthrie referee voters' conversations with Trump from 8 to 9 EDT on NBC. Another 2.4 million watched Trump in simulcasts on MSNBC and CNBC, but even with those figures added in, Biden's town hall still beat Trump's by nearly 1 million viewers. 

– Gary Levin

Town halls ratings:Biden beats Trump in Nielsen TV ratings

USPS employee who discarded 112 ballots in Kentucky may face federal charges

Clarification: This item has been updated to reflect that the employee is no longer employed by the U.S. Postal Service. The circumstances of the employees departure are unknown.

The United States Postal Service employee who allegedly discarded more than 100 absentee ballots in a dumpster Thursday no longer works for the Postal Service and could face federal prosecution.

Special agents of the Postal Service Office of Inspector General discovered 112 absentee ballots intended for the 40299 zip code of the Jeffersontown area after responding to a report of undelivered mail being found by a citizen in Louisville on Thursday morning, special agent Scott Balfour said in a statement. 

On Friday, Balfour said the individual is no longer employed by the Postal Service. The case has been accepted for federal prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, according to Balfour, who added that it will decide "what charges are appropriate after a review of all the facts gathered by USPS OIG Special Agents."

– Ben Tobin (Louisville Courier Journal)

Magic Johnson to campaign for Biden and Harris in Michigan

Retired basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson will campaign Saturday in Michigan for the Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the campaign announced.

Johnson will visit Detroit for a “shop talk” with Black men. Then he’ll participate at an event in Lansing to encourage voters to cast ballots early at their clerk’s office or satellite voting location.

Johnson’s Michigan State basketball team beat Indiana State for the NCAA title in 1979. The Spartan went on to win five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers.

– Bart Jansen

Trump retweets story from satirical news site

President Donald Trump, who likes to denounce alleged "fake news," retweeted a piece of satire Friday about Twitter shutting down over reporting on Joe Biden.

Retweeting a link entitled "Twitter Shuts Down Entire Network To Slow Spread Of Negative Biden News" – which never happened –Trump said: "Wow, this has never been done in history. This includes his really bad interview last night. Why is Twitter doing this. Bringing more attention to Sleepy Joe & Big T."

Twitter did not do that.

The story was the from the Babylon Bee, a satirical news site. The motto on the Bee's Twitter page says it all: "Fake news you can trust."

– David Jackson 

Biden again says he doesn't want to ban fracking

Democratic presidential nominee and former vice president Joe Biden again said he does not want to ban fracking during an ABC town hall Thursday night, adding, though, that “it has to be managed very, very well.”

Biden was responding to a question from Pittsburgh resident Michele Ellison, identified as a Republican who has voted for Democrats, who asked him about fracking and said that the method for drilling for natural gas has sickened residents and killed wildlife in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Biden, who came to Pittsburgh in late August and said he did not want to ban fracking, reiterated that stance, but said methane emissions and water pollution must be controlled. He then transitioned to arguing that “the future rests in renewable energy,” such as wind and solar.

– J.D. Prose