Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020

Trump, Biden hit key states on final weekend before US presidential vote

READING (AFP) – US President Donald Trump, challenger Joe Biden and their top surrogates barrelled through crucial states in the industrial Midwest and coastal southeast on Saturday (Oct 31), pressing closing arguments in a frantic sprint days ahead of the US presidential election.

Using some of his most urgent language yet, Mr Trump warned of “bedlam in our country” if no clear winner emerges quickly in Tuesday’s election, saying, without evidence, that it could take weeks to sort out a result and that “very bad things” could happen in the interim.

Mr Biden meanwhile told backers it was “time for Donald Trump to pack his bags and go home.”

Underscoring the high stakes – and the disruptive impact of the coronavirus pandemic – a record 90 million early votes have already been cast, as the bruising contest heads toward the biggest turnout in at least a century.

The virus has killed over 230,000 Americans, ravaged the world’s largest economy and is infecting record numbers of people across the US.

The election takes place in a deeply divided country, with feelings so raw that gun sales have surged in some areas. Businesses in some cities, including Washington, are protectively boarding windows, and police are preparing for the possibility of violence.

Mr Trump was focusing Saturday on the key battleground state of Pennsylvania – “the state where the story of American independence began,” he said in the small city of Newtown, the first of four stops in that state amid a frenetic final sprint.

Mr Biden made his first joint appearance of the campaign with his former boss Barack Obama – probably the most popular Democrat in the country – in Flint, Michigan as they scramble to boost turnout in a state Mr Trump carried by a razor-thin margin in 2016.

Vice President Mike Pence was meanwhile campaigning in narrowly divided North Carolina as Mr Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris was in Florida, another vitally important swing state.

Pennsylvania has emerged as one of the top prizes this year.

In his motorcade en route to rural Bucks County, the president passed hundreds of supporters holding up a forest of pro-Trump signs. The crowd then booed trailing vehicles that were carrying reporters, a regular target of Mr Trump’s attacks.

Later in Butler, Pennsylvania, he arrived at a rally with well over 5,000 people crammed in – few in masks but many wearing red Trump hats.

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In remarks at an event in Bucks County, Mr Trump lashed out at Mr Biden, saying he would shut down the state’s fossil-fuel industry.

The president claimed credit for creating the “greatest economy in the history of this country – the history of the world” – while “foreign nations are in freefall.” Despite recent signs of recovery from the virus-induced economic pain, however, millions remain jobless.

The campaign has been overshadowed by the surging pandemic, which even sickened Mr Trump and members of his staff.

Stanford University economists estimated in a study out Thursday that 18 of Mr Trump’s campaign rallies had resulted in more than 30,000 coronavirus cases and over 700 deaths – although not necessarily among attendees – based on statistical modelling.

In stark contrast to Mr Trump, who has belittled mask-wearing by Mr Biden and others, the Democrat has scrupulously followed the guidance of public health experts.

After Mr Biden and Mr Obama appeared Saturday before a socially distanced drive-in rally in Flint, they made an unannounced stop in suburban Bloomfield Hills before heading to Detroit, where they were joined by superstar singer Stevie Wonder.

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Mr Biden leads in the state by nearly seven points, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls. The state’s 16 electoral votes could provide a sizeable leap towards the 270 needed to win the White House.

Mr Trump, in eking out his 2016 victory, took advantage of low turnout rates among Michigan blacks. As Mr Biden campaigns with the nation’s first black president, he clearly hopes to change that.

Mr Obama pulled few punches in Flint and Detroit, saying 140,000 American lives would have been saved if the president had taken an approach to the pandemic similar to Canada’s.

“This is not a contest of just calling each other names,” Mr Obama said. “This isn’t a sporting event. This is life or death.”

Mr Biden said “we’re done with the chaos, the tweets, the anger, the failure, the refusal to take any responsibility.”

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Mr Biden’s campaign announced he will address the nation on election night from his home base of Wilmington, after a vote that will undoubtedly leave millions bitterly disappointed, no matter who wins.

After a campaign largely muted by the pandemic, Mr Biden has taken the offensive, pushing Mr Trump onto the back foot in unexpected battlegrounds like Texas, a large, traditionally conservative bastion now seen as a toss-up.

On Friday, the state reported a staggering nine million residents had already voted, surpassing its 2016 total.

Mr Trump is meanwhile hoping to pull off another shock result like in 2016.

The president “has done more for this country than any president,” said Mr Jeff Close, who attended the Trump rally in Reading, Pennsylvania.

“He’s kept his word – promises made, promises kept.”

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