President Trump and Joe Biden courted voters in the nation’s battleground states Saturday, trading barbs at dueling rallies that offered a clear contrast in the homestretch of a campaign that has few undecided voters.
Trump’s status as underdog was clear in his rally schedule Saturday, as he traveled to three states he won in 2016 — North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin — where he is struggling to secure victory.
“We’ve got to win North Carolina,” he said at a sunbaked rally in Lumberton, N.C., where he joked about the possibility of losing there and in other conservative states. “Can you imagine if I lost in Iowa?”
Biden, who has a solid polling lead and a big fundraising advantage, and his surrogates fanned out across states Trump won last time to press the Democratic nominee’s advantage.
“It’s go-time, folks,” Biden said at a car rally in Bucks County near Philadelphia. “It’s game day. We have 10 days left. And it may come down to Pennsylvania. The choice has never been clearer and the stakes have never been higher.”
The two presidential contenders, fresh off Thursday’s second and final debate, drew stark contrasts over the COVID-19 pandemic just as the U.S. passed another terrible milestone: On Friday, the coronavirus caseload hit a record high of 83,000 infections in a single day.
Trump downplayed the news, repeating a false claim that U.S. cases seem to be growing only because testing has increased. He portrayed heavy news coverage of the pandemic as politically motivated.
“That’s all I hear about now. Turn on TV, ‘COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID,’” he said. “On Nov. 4, you won’t hear about it anymore.”
With nearly 225,000 deaths so far in the United States, more than in any other country, Biden derided Trump for shrugging off the deadliest pandemic in a century.
Friday was “the worst day we’ve ever had,” Biden said. “Yet at the debate on Thursday night, Donald Trump was still saying, ‘We’re rounding the corner.’”
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Their campaign events embodied their different approaches to the pandemic.
Trump, who shrugs off public health recommendations about mask-wearing and social distancing, spoke to a crowd packed closely together, many not wearing masks, chanting and cheering at length.
At Biden’s car rally, the stage was set up at the end of a large parking lot where about 130 cars — each limited to four passengers — were parked. People responded to Biden’s applause lines with volleys of horn-honking.
Trump watched Biden’s rally before his own, and ridiculed the spectacle when he got to North Carolina.
“People in cars — I don’t get it,” he said, mocking Biden for gesturing to the parking lot as if he were addressing a big crowd. “Honk, honk.”
Although he is trailing Biden in national and battleground state polls, Trump predicted “a great red wave” on Nov. 3, insisting to reporters: “Nothing worries me.”
With the second and last debate completed, the presidential campaign heads into its final stretch with no other major national events on the calendar that have game-changing potential. That leaves it to the candidates themselves to make their cases.
Biden had two events in Pennsylvania on Saturday, while his running mate, Kamala Harris, campaigned in Ohio and former President Obama touched down in Florida, a vote-rich state he won in 2008 and 2012 that went to Trump in 2016.
“You delivered twice for me, Florida; now I’m asking you to deliver for Joe,” Obama said in Miami.
His ongoing star power and charisma for Democrats was on display at a quick stop in Miami Springs, where he spoke to campaign volunteers, acknowledging that some might have campaigned for him.
“You were my first!” one woman said.
Obama quipped, “I’m very grateful. Though you should probably say it in a different way.”
Outside Biden’s first rally, a group of Trump supporters could be heard. Biden responded to them with a mixed message of derision and unity.
“I’ll work as hard for those who don’t support me as those who do, including those chumps out there,” Biden said of the pro-Trump group, who apparently were using a megaphone.
At a second drive-in event in Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County, which is heated with energy industry jobs, Biden made a point of clarifying his clumsy statement about oil at Thursday’s debate.
Faced with Republican charges that he wants to end oil-based jobs, Biden said — as he has for months — that he wants to end federal subsidies for the oil industry, not the industry itself.
“Unlike Donald Trump, I don’t think big oil companies need a handout from the federal government,” he said. “We’re going to get rid of the $40 billion in fossil fuel subsidies and we’re going to invest in clean energy and carbon capture.”
As the underdog, Trump has kept a more intense public campaign schedule, and is preparing to do more.
Trump is putting all of his chips on a strategy of appealing to his base in rallies that probably do more to lift his spirits than to reach the small slice of undecided voters.
However, a campaign official said that at recent Trump rallies, a quarter or more in attendance were people who had not voted in 2016.
Trump’s raucous rallies test his ability to stick to a prepared speech and offer a consistent message. The North Carolina rally was a case in point: It was supposed to be an event focused on Trump’s “vision for Native American communities,” an administration official said, and to honor the Lumbee Tribe there.
But the topic was overshadowed in an hourlong Trumpian ramble that included reminiscences about Hillary Clinton and the 2016 campaign and complaints about the heat and about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to a hair salon that was closed to the public.
But he did occasionally draw points of contrast between himself and Biden on the economy, which fellow Republicans consider his strongest campaign issue.
“This election is a choice between a Trump super-recovery and a Biden depression,” Trump said.
Trump began his day in Florida, where he is a resident, and cast his ballot in West Palm Beach. He told reporters afterward, “I voted for a guy named Trump.”