President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic candidate Joe Biden, right, participate in the first presidential debate at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University, on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images via TNS

Little more than a month before the Nov. 3 election, Democratic candidate Joe Biden and President Donald Trump took the stage in Cleveland Tuesday night to face off for the first time. Split into 15-minute segments, the debate rarely stayed on just one topic for the full 15 minutes. From COVID-19 to Trump’s taxes, everything was on the table.

The debate took place amid a pandemic, protests against police violence and the announcement of a Supreme Court justice nominee.

The Lantern fact checked statements the candidates made and explained how they relate to issues impacting Ohio State — and college students more generally.

Read reactions from Ohio State College Republicans and Democrats.


With Johns Hopkins University reporting more than seven million COVID-19 cases and 200,000 deaths in the U.S., a major issue for voters this election is how the next president will lead the country out of the pandemic.

Biden pointed to Trump’s admission to journalist Bob Woodward in February that he felt the virus was more deadly than he said publicly as evidence for his inability to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

“[The U.S. has] 4 percent of the world’s population, 20 percent of the deaths,” Biden said. “It is what it is because you are who you are.”

Trump, however, said his response to the pandemic — providing PPE, building ventilators and spearheading a fast-paced vaccine effort — is more than what Biden would have been able to do.

Originally thought to primarily impact older populations, COVID-19 rates among young adults have increased as the virus spreads across college campuses. According to The New York Times, more than 130,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported at about 1,300 colleges across the country. 

At Ohio State, the cumulative positivity rate among students remains steady at about 3.1 percent, according to Ohio State’s COVID-19 dashboard. Of the 92,655 students tested between Aug. 14 and Sept. 26, 2,856 students tested positive for COVID-19. 

Trump took credit for the return of Big Ten football as an example of an economy recovering from COVID-19. Trump had a phone call with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren Sept. 1 to urge him to start the football season after it was postponed Aug. 11. The conference’s football season was announced Sept. 16 with a schedule set on Sept. 19.

Health care

The first topic of the night — Trump’s decision to nominate federal judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court — segued into discussion of the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

Barrett, a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and graduate of Notre Dame Law School, wrote an article against the Affordable Care Act in 2017. And Trump made the repeal of the act — which insured nearly 20 million Americans between 2010 and 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — part of his platform since his race for the 2016 election.

Trump said millions of Americans would lose their private insurance under Biden’s plan to add a public option for people unsatisfied with their employer’s coverage or otherwise without adequate health insurance. He said Biden’s plan would move the country one step closer to “socialist medicine.”

“Your party wants to go socialist medicine and social healthcare and they’re going to dominate you, Joe. You know that,” Trump said.

But Biden said the repeal of the Affordable Care Act would leave many Americans — particularly those with pre-existing conditions — without any health insurance at all.

About 15.1 percent of people aged 19-25 years were uninsured in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No more recent data on college student insured rates is available.


Moderator Chris Wallace asked both candidates about the racial issues that have consumed the nation, beginning with the protests in response to the killing of George Floyd. 

Biden said that systematic injustice has consumed the nation, ranging from law enforcement to education, and that a solution needs to be reached by all parties working together. 

“It’s about equity and equality, it’s about decency, it’s about the Constitution,” Biden said. “We have never walked away from trying to acquire equity for everyone, equality for the whole America. But we’ve never accomplished it, but we’ve never walked away from it like he has done.” 

Trump responded by mentioning Biden’s sponsoring of the 1994 Crime Bill, in which he said Biden referred to Black Americans as “super predators” and “worse.” 

“They’ve never forgotten it Joe,” Trump said. “You’ve treated the African American population, community, you have treated the Black community about as bad as anyone in this country.” 

Both candidates agreed that violent protesters should be prosecuted and face charges. Biden said law enforcement should be held accountable. 

“I’m in favor of law and order, law and order with justice where people get treated fairly,” Biden said. 

Biden openly denounced white supremacy, and although Trump said he was “willing” to condemn white supremacy, he failed to do so, instead saying “almost everything I see is from the left wing.”

Ohio State students hosted peaceful protests on campus over the past few months. In June, students marched around campus following the death of Floyd, and two protests took place outside Bricker Hall in response to a Sept. 3 universitywide public safety notice in which assaults on white Ohio State students were classified as hate crimes. 

University President Kristina M. Johnson created an action plan to address the larger racial cultural issue at Ohio State in a Sept. 18 universitywide email to ensure that that incident “never happens again.” 

Global warming

Global warming was briefly discussed at the debate without any clear policy actions from either candidate. 

Wallace noted that Biden, among other considerations, supported limitations on fracking operations. This comes after Ohio State gained approval from the Ohio Power Siting Board for the construction, operation and maintenance of a natural-gas power plant on West Campus. 

The $278-million power plant will produce thermal energy and electricity for Ohio State’s main campus through the use of natural gas, which is extracted from the ground by fracking. The Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, along with several Ohio State students, faculty and staff, raised concerns about its potential environmental impact.

University spokesperson Dan Hedman said the plant will cut carbon emissions by more than 30 percent in its first year of operation while providing energy-efficient electricity, heating and cooling to Ohio State’s campus.

Absentee voting

In recent weeks, Trump has publicly spoken against the legitimacy of mail-in ballots, claiming a majority-mail-in system would open the election to interference by foreign countries and other forms of voter fraud.

“This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” Trump said. “The other thing: It’s nice on Nov. 3, you’re watching and you see who won the election — and I think we’re going to do well because people are really happy with the job we’ve done — but you know what? We might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over.” 

But Biden pointed to the lack of evidence suggesting that mail-in ballots are any more likely to be tampered with or counterfeited than in-person votes.

“His own homeland security director and as well as the FBI director said there is no evidence at all that mail-in ballots are a source of being manipulated and cheating,” Biden said. “The fact is that there are going to be millions of people, because of COVID, that are going to be voting by mail-in ballots — like he does, by the way.”

Mail-in absentee voting has already increased this year compared to previous elections. According to the Ohio Secretary of State website, nearly 1.8 million absentee ballots have been requested as of Sept. 22. At the same point in time before the 2016 election, just more than 800,000 absentee ballots were requested in Ohio.

At Ohio State, student voter turnout saw a 10.8 percentage point increase in the 2016 presidential election and a 29.1 percent point increase in the 2018 midterm election, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement. There is no available data on the number of Ohio State students who voted by absentee ballot in previous elections or who plan to vote by absentee ballot this November.   

Students planning to vote in Ohio can register to vote or update their voting address on the Secretary of State website by Oct. 5.

Max Garrison, Bella Czajkowski and Sam Raudins contributed reporting.