Donald Trump, Joe Biden zero in on critical battleground of Florida

US Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden
President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden will rally supporters on Thursday in the battleground of Florida, visiting the same city hours apart and putting on full display their contrasting approaches to the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.

Opinion polls show Biden with a significant edge nationally, but his lead is tighter in battleground states. 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 key to his surprise election win.

Trump will stage an outdoor rally in Tampa. Thousands of people have crowded together at recent Trump rallies, many eschewing masks despite public health recommendations.

Biden, in contrast, will hold a drive-in rally later in Tampa where attendees will remain in their cars. He will host a similar event earlier in the day in Broward County in South Florida.

In the days leading up to the election, the pandemic that has upended life across the United States this year, killing more than 227,000 people and causing 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 will cease 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.

The University of Washington's health institute forecast last month that the Covid-19 death toll in the United States might be more than 400,000 by the end of this year.

The Republican president is likely to hail figures released on Thursday that show the U.S. economy grew at an unrivaled pace of 33% in the third quarter due to more than $3 trillion worth of pandemic relief from the government.

But it is doubtful whether economic data this close to Election Day can influence a presidential election, and Biden can point out that U.S. output remains below its level in the fourth quarter of 2019, before the pandemic hit.

In the Reuters/Ipsos poll in Florida, 48% of likely voters said Biden would be better at handling the pandemic, while 42% said Trump would be better. Some 52% said Trump would be better at managing the economy, against 41% for Biden.

Following his own bout with coronavirus, 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 - even spending two days this week close to his home base of Delaware.

More than 76.5 million people have cast early in-person and mail ballots nationally, according to data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida. That is a record-setting pace and more than 53% of the total 2016 turnout.

In a significant setback for Republicans in two battleground states, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to block extensions for receiving mail-in votes in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Trump has made unfounded claims that voting by mail, a common practice in U.S. elections, leads to widespread fraud.

RETURN TO MIDWEST

Trump 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.

After a briefing from public health officials on Wednesday, Biden slammed what he called the Trump administration's disregard for safety and failure to develop a plan to contain COVID-19.

"The longer he's in charge the more reckless he gets," Biden told reporters, before casting his own vote in Wilmington, Delaware.

Trump has accused Biden of wanting to institute new lockdowns across the nation that would further damage the economy.

In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia prosecutor issued a stark warning for Trump campaign poll-watchers not to overstep their bounds as they search for voter fraud. The Trump campaign has said it is recruiting an "army" of 50,000 volunteers to monitor polling places, an effort Democrats say could suppress the vote.

If Trump does appear to be interfering with vote counting or manipulating poll results after Election Day, dozens of activist groups who claim to represent millions of Americans from both political parties plan to hit the streets in protest.

The "Protect the Results" coalition of over 130 groups, from Planned Parenthood to Republicans for the Rule of Law, has about 400 events planned to date.



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