President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will hold dueling prime-time town halls instead of a second presidential debate on Thursday, as Americans continued to swamp polling places in states allowing early in-person voting.
With less than three weeks to go until Nov 3's Election Day, the Republican president is trying to change the dynamics of a race in which Biden has a double-digit advantage in some national polls.
North Carolina, a highly competitive state, began more than two weeks of in-person early voting on Thursday, following huge turnout in Georgia and Texas earlier in the week.
Video from local media showed large numbers of people waiting for the polls to open in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, and gathering in the pre-dawn hours to vote at two arenas in the state's largest city, Charlotte.
Gerry Cohen, a member of the election board in the county that includes most of the city of Raleigh, saw more than 400 people in line at a community centre before polls opened. I’ve never seen this many in line here, he said on Twitter.
Nearly 18 million Americans have cast ballots either in person or by mail so far, representing 12.9% of the total votes counted in the 2016 general election, according to the US Elections Project at the University of Florida.
Voters are seeking to avoid in-person lines on Election Day to stay safe as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations continue to rise, but also to make sure their ballots will count. Many are concerned that Trump will challenge widely used mail-in ballots, after he claimed without evidence that they were fraudulent.
Trump's campaign is counting on a surge of last-minute votes. But Reuters/Ipsos polling conducted from Friday to Tuesday shows there are far fewer undecided likely voters this year - around 8 per cent - and they are just as likely to pick Biden as they are Trump.
The Reuters/Ipsos polling shows Biden holding a 10-percentage-point lead nationally, with a tighter margin in the battleground states that will help decide the election.
Democratic fundraising organization ActBlue said on Thursday it collected US$1.5 billion online from July to September, the most it had ever raised in one quarter. By comparison, major Republican fundraising platform WinRed said on Monday that it collected US$623.5 million in the same period.
Both candidates have been visiting battleground states this week, with Trump holding rallies in Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa and Biden travelling to Ohio and Florida.
The town halls, in which each candidate will field questions from voters, will take place at 8pm, with Trump on NBC from Miami and Biden on ABC from Philadelphia.