In battleground Florida, Trump and Biden host study-in-contrast ralliesReuters | Washington DC | Updated: 30-10-2020 02:54 IST | Created: 30-10-2020 01:43 IST
President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden rallied supporters on Thursday in the closely fought state of Florida, highlighting their contrasting approaches to the resurgent coronavirus pandemic as the clock ticks down to Election Day. Opinion polls show Biden with a significant edge nationally, but with a tighter lead in the battleground states that play a decisive role in the final result.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed Trump had essentially moved into a tie with Biden in Florida, with 49% saying they would vote for Biden and 47% for the president. With its 29 electoral votes, the state is a major prize in next Tuesday's election. Trump's victory in Florida in 2016 was vital to his surprise election win.
Thousands of people, many of them without masks, crowded together at an outdoor event in Tampa on Thursday to hear Trump mock his opponent, the former vice president. "Could you imagine losing to this guy? Could you imagine?" Trump said, adding he was confident of winning a second term.
Biden, in contrast, held a drive-in rally later at a college in Broward County, north of Miami, where attendees remained in their cars to avoid possible spread of the disease. "Donald Trump has given up" on fighting COVID-19, said Biden.
With an eye on the important Latino vote in Florida, the Democrat pushed back on a Republican argument that Trump would be tougher on the left-wing governments in Cuba and Venezuela. "President Trump can't advance democracy and human rights for the Cuban people and the Venezuelan people when he has embraced dictators around the world," Biden said. Many of South Florida's Latinos or their relatives fled Cuba or Venezuela.
SHADOW OF THE PANDEMIC The pandemic that has upended life across the United States, killed more than 227,000 people and caused millions of job losses, is roaring back.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed the threat of the pandemic, saying this week his opponents and the news media would stop paying attention to it right after the election, even as leaders in Europe scramble to contain a second wave and public health experts predict a grim winter in the United States. Officials in Gastonia, North Carolina, warned people who attended an Oct. 21 Trump rally there that two people who took part tested positive for COVID-19.
"Because of the large number of potential contacts from the rally, and the inability to alert them directly, the community is being notified so they can assess their own risk and take appropriate actions," officials said. Trump's own White House coronavirus task force is warning of a persistent and broad spread of COVID-19 in the western half of the United States, including in a number of states that will play an important role in the election.
"We are on a very difficult trajectory. We're going in the wrong direction," Dr. Anthony Fauci, task force member and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNBC on Wednesday night. The Republican president hailed figures released on Thursday that showed the U.S. economy grew at an unrivaled annualized pace of 33% in the third quarter because of a huge federal pandemic relief program.
"So glad this great GDP number came out before November 3rd," Trump wrote in a tweet. It is doubtful, however, whether economic data this close to Election Day can influence the outcome. Biden can point out that U.S. output remains below its level in the fourth quarter of 2019, before the pandemic hit. Following his own bout with COVID-19, the president has had a hectic campaign schedule, holding as many as three rallies a day in different states, while Biden has taken a more measured tack, spending two days this week close to his home base of Delaware.
A planned Trump rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, for Thursday night was postponed because of a wind advisory stemming from Hurricane Zeta, Trump's campaign said. The president plans to return to the Midwest on Friday, campaigning in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. In all, he plans to visit 10 states in the last week of the campaign and will host 11 rallies in the final 48 hours, a campaign official said. EARLY VOTING DELUGE
More than 80 million Americans have already cast ballots in the presidential election, according to a tally on Thursday from the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, setting the stage for the highest participation rate in over a century. After a night of rainfall and thunderstorms due to Hurricane Zeta, early voting precincts in Georgia were experiencing power outages and some mobile voting sites were blocked off due to fallen trees.
Casey Taylor, 37, a professional services consultant in Atlanta, ran 3 miles (5 km) to a polling station at a library to vote early but she was turned away because of a power shortage. "I will now have to also pay to cast my vote," said Taylor as she ordered an Uber ride to another precinct. Florida is home to large Latino populations, with Cuban Americans in the south of Florida traditionally tending to favor Republicans, while newer communities of Puerto Ricans in central Florida lean toward the Democrats.
Biden's campaign tried on Thursday to dampen concerns among Democrats that Biden is not reaching Latino voters nationally as well as former President Barack Obama used to. "We are 100% on track to match or exceed the Obama Latino vote numbers in 2012," Matt Barreto, co-founder of the polling and research firm Latino Decisions, said on a media conference call organized by the Biden campaign.