Thursday night’s competing presidential town hall meetings with President Donald Trump on NBC and challenger former Vice President Joe Biden on ABC provided little insight into how this year’s election may play out.

The Commission on Presidential Debates had planned a virtual town hall meeting with both candidates, but the president refused the change from an in-person meeting. Biden accepted an offer from ABC to participate in a town hall in Philadelphia, and the president the same night accepted a similar offer from NBC for a town hall in Miami.

With former Democratic adviser turned ABC news anchor George Stephanopoulos as moderator at Thursday’s town hall, Biden, mostly uninterrupted, was able to lay out his plans for the country. However, Stephanopoulos did question him about stacking the Supreme Court if the U.S. Senate approves the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Biden, who earlier refused to say, said he would inform voters of his views before Nov. 3, which seems like a cop-out since millions of voters will have cast their ballots before Election Day.

Meanwhile, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie surprisingly turned what many feared would amount to a free promotion for Trump’s campaign into being one of the toughest grillings he has faced as president. Guthrie grilled the network’s former “Apprentice” star about white supremacy, QAnon and his taxes, among other things.

“I denounce white supremacy, OK?” Trump said almost before Guthrie had finished her question.

She then asked him about his view on conspiracy theories from the far-right group, QAnon.

“I just don’t know about QAnon,” the president claimed as Guthrie walked though how the movement claims Democrats are a satanic cult that practices pedophilia.

When pressed for the president to denounce the group, he said, “I do know they are very much against pedophilia — they fight it very hard.” Later he added, “What I do hear about it is they are very strongly against pedophilia. I agree with that. I do agree with that.”

About his taxes, the president admitted for the first time that he owed in excess $400 million but reiterated the information had been obtained “illegally,” and he said the debt is “a tiny percentage” of his net wealth.

“$400 million is a peanut,” he said. “$400 million compared to the assets I have, all these great properties all over the world.”

Undoubtedly, the president’s defiance in his responses to what his campaign and his supporters believe to be a biased and liberal media will fire up his base as it did in 2016. But whether that will be enough remains to be seen.

Biden continues to lead national polls in double digits while polls in the battleground states, which gave the president the needed electoral college votes in 2016, continue to tighten.

Whatever the outcome, I am somewhat encouraged that President Trump, when pressed by Guthrie about his response if he did not win the election, said he would accept a peaceful transfer of power.

“Yes, yes I will, but I want it to be an honest election, and so does everybody else,” the president said.

So do I, Mr. President. And I pray for a peaceful transfer of power if the need for such a transfer comes about.

Mary Madewell is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6976 or at mary.madewell@theparisnews.com.

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