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Ahead of debate, Democratic national chair: Biden will 'counter' Trump with facts

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Cleveland — Americans will see "two diametrically different" visions for the country during Tuesday night's crucial presidential debate, says Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

At 9 p.m., President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will square off in their first debate, 35 days before the election, from a venue in Cleveland, where a small group of demonstrators and a large number of police officers were gathering nearby.

In an interview hours before the debate, Perez said Biden will "counter" any incorrect claims the Republican president makes about the economy — one of the six topics planned — with "facts."

Preparations take place for the first Presidential debate in the Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion, Monday in Cleveland.

"Donald Trump is trying to paint an alternative reality that doesn’t exist," Perez said.

Asked about the president wanting Biden to take a drug test before or after the debate and his campaign raising unfounded concerns about earpieces being worn, Perez replied that Trump wanted reporters to write about those topics instead of real issues, like Republicans' position on health care.

"He’s failed every test of leadership," Perez said. "The American people know it. Michigan knows it. Donald Trump has to distract so that people are thinking about these other things."

The Michigan Republican Party issued a statement Tuesday on a story from Fox News, contending that Biden had refused an inspection for an earpiece "that might aid him in tonight's debate." The Biden campaign has denied the claim.

"Joe Biden continues to demonstrate that he is not mentally fit to serve as President of the United States," said Laura Cox, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party. "He has barely campaigned, rarely takes questions from the media, and when he does, he reads his responses from a teleprompter."

Tuesday's debate will take place on the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic. It's the lone presidential debate that will occur in the Midwest, a region that could decide the 2020 election.

Because of precautions aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19, there will be about 80 people in the venue for the debate.

On Tuesday evening, there was a heavy police presence outside of it with streets blocked off around the building where the debate will occur. Fencing restricted access to other buildings nearby.

"It brings a certain amount of focus and respect and attention, which the city deserves," Michael Bracy, 64, of Cleveland, said of hosting the debate. "It's an old girl. She went through a lot. She's on the mend. She's rising."

As Bracy spoke, a separate group of demonstrators with signs that said "Doctors for Biden" waved to passersby.

Trump arrived in Cleveland at 3:31 p.m., according to a pool report. The president did not do any last-minute preparation for Tuesday night's debate on the flight from Washington, D.C., a senior Trump campaign official told reporters on Air Force One.

“He’s ready to go," the official said.

The Trump campaign expects Trump’s taxes to be the first topic raised during the debate. 

Among the president's guests at the debate will be adviser Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, and Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Colby Covington.

Biden's plane landed in Cleveland at 4:45 p.m., according to a pool report.

cmauger@detroitnews.com