“Have you ever been to an event like this?” moderator Anderson Cooper asked the former vice president at the beginning of the event, held at a minor league baseball field in Pennsylvania.
The question-askers, who were selected after CNN reached out to civic and local organizations, were allowed to ask questions from their cars — with the help of a large boom microphone — or from a socially distanced standing microphone that they were not allowed to touch.
Most participants chose to address Biden from the standing microphone. Some attendees watched the event from inside their cars, while others sat outside in folding chairs.
A Bloomberg News reporter who attended the town hall as a representative of the press pool following the Biden campaign said that a loudspeaker at the venue broadcast a message telling attendees to “help us with some applause” during the mostly quiet event.
Two days earlier, on Tuesday night in Philadelphia, ABC hosted an indoor town hall event with President Trump that the network said involved 3,200 disinfecting wipes, 16 gallons of hand sanitizer, and 1,600 disposable masks used as part of the event.
To space out the 21 undecided voters in attendance, all of whom were tested for the coronavirus, some 319 seats at the National Constitution Center were left empty to ensure adequate separation. (Both CNN and ABC said their town hall events were held in compliance with local coronavirus regulations.)
ABC’s town hall with the president was notable for the intensity of the questions that were posed to him, including challenges about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, racial inequality in the country and the U.S. immigration system. But while the 90-minute event made for compelling television, viewership was lower than expected: Just under 4 million total viewers watched.
The questions asked on Thursday night were less combative than those asked of Trump, though one participant — a Republican who voted for Trump — chided Biden when he started answering her question about government regulation before she had finished.
At the end of the event, Cooper re-upped the network’s invitation to Trump to participate in a CNN town hall — “before Election Day, perhaps,” he added.