President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, faced off in the final presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle from Belmont University in Nashville on Thursday night, marking the candidates’ last chance to pitch themselves to tens of millions of voters in primetime before Nov. 3.
The stakes were high: Trump needed to make his case as polls show him trailing nationally and in several battleground states key to his reelection hopes. At the same time, Biden had a platform to solidify his lead and avoid any major mistakes with Election Day just 12 days away.
Biden spent the week hunkered down in Wilmington, Delaware, to prepare -- what he's done before other debates -- while Trump had seemingly done less to prepare, telling reporters on Wednesday, "I do prep, I do prep," without elaborating. Earlier this week Trump said that answering journalists' questions is the best kind of preparation.
Thursday's debate was supposed to be the candidates' third matchup but is instead the second of only two presidential debates this election. Trump refused to participate in the second debate when it was moved to a virtual format following his COVID-19 diagnosis. The candidates ultimately participated in dueling town halls instead.
Trump commits to familiar playbook to define Biden in tamer final debate: ANALYSIS
President Donald Trump knows the playbook, in part, because he basically wrote it: A flurry of stories, a stunt designed to rattle his opponent and an attempt to define his opponent based on family connections and dark allegations.
Trump stepped into the relatively calm conversation at Thursday night's presidential debate with a series of attacks on Joe Biden and his family, in what may be seen as a last-ditch attempt to turn around a campaign that's shaping up as a referendum on Trump's presidency.
"I don't make money from China, you do. I don't make money from Ukraine, you do," the president said. "They're like a vacuum cleaner. They're sucking up money every place he goes."
Biden then claimed it is Trump, not him, who has foreign sources of income.
"The guy who got in trouble in Ukraine was this guy," Biden said, speaking of Trump. "The only guy who's made money from China is this guy."
Trump hopes that his performance in the final debate will mark a pivot point in the campaign, making it a race between him and Biden, rather than a referendum on his own presidency. Yet, with nearly 50 million votes already cast, it may all prove to be a gambit better designed for a different campaign, against a different candidate and, perhaps, for a different era entirely.
5 key takeaways from the final presidential debate
For 90 relatively-civil minutes, the pair sparred over a range of topics including the pandemic, health care, election security, immigration, their personal financial entanglements and climate change, among other things, guided by moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News.
The closing arguments arrived, however, on a day in which the number of early votes cast this year eclipsed the number of early votes total in 2016 -- with still 12 days to go until Election Day. Over 48.5 million Americans have already voted, which leaves a winnowing group of persuadable individuals for Trump and Biden to win over.
Though there was some doubt about whether the event would take place after Trump repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debate's attempt to hold a virtual second debate prior to its eventual cancelation -- and later their decision to mute the candidates' microphones during portions of Thursday's discussion -- the debate moved forward without delay and largely absent of the repeated interruptions that marred the first.
-ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett and Adam Kelsey
Healthy enough to debate, president defiant on questions about COVID-19: ANALYSIS
There were supposed to be three.
Thursday night's debate was only the second this cycle after the town hall was canceled when President Donald Trump and nearly two-dozen of his associates contracted COVID-19 and he refused to debate his Democratic opponent Joe Biden virtually.
The president’s personal experience battling the coronavirus may have changed the schedule, but it had little impact on the substance of the debate or how the president talked about the novel coronavirus in the end.
Fact check: Trump wrong on COVID-19 mortality rates
TRUMP'S CLAIM: Trump said that "the mortality rate is down 85%" for COVID-19 in the United States, and that "the excess mortality rate is way down, and much lower than almost any other country."
FACT CHECK: Although Trump was correct to assert that death rates have fallen significantly since the spring, they are not down by 85%, but rather 62% -- and they are currently trending up again nationwide.
According to public health experts, much of that decline can be attributed to greater testing, better treatment protocols and to a larger number of younger people -- rather than older people -- becoming infected with COVID-19.
Meanwhile, "excess mortality" is an estimate of how many more people are dying than during a normal year, or other time period. It is incorrect to refer to the rate as "way down," since it is estimated that in the United States, there have been many more excess deaths compared to last year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday 299,028 more people had died in the United States from late January to early October than would be expected in a typical year. It attributed 66% of those excess deaths, or 198,081, to COVID-19.
According to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "The US has experienced more deaths from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) than any other country and has one of the highest cumulative per capita death rates."
Analyzing the number of deaths per 100,000 people attributed to the pandemic, the U.S. had 60.3 deaths per 100,000 people. That was higher than Germany (11.3), Canada (24.6) and France (46.6), but lower than Belgium (86.8) and the United Kingdom (62.6), according to the report.
-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos