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WORLD | 02-11-2020 23:02

Trump, Biden make final push in states seen as key to victory

Two candidates trade insults and display utter contempt for each other before cheering and honking audiences, as United States prepares to head to the polls.

US President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden capped their bitter race with a final blitz of campaigning Monday in states critical to deciding the outcome of a contest marked by the coronavirus pandemic that pummelled the world’s biggest economy.

The two candidates traded insults and displayed contempt for each other before cheering and honking audiences. The president kicked off a run of five rallies in four states: North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Biden is spending most of the day in Pennsylvania, a state critical to each candidates’ hopes of victory. The Democrat stopped in Ohio, projecting confidence he has a chance to flip a state Trump won handily in 2016.

Trump told rallygoers in Fayetteville, North Carolina, that “a vote for Biden is a vote to hand the keys to government over to people who despise you and people who want to rob your children of their American dream.” In Avoca, Pennsylvania, Trump claimed Biden is “not equipped mentally to be your president.”

Biden, speaking in Cleveland, called Trump a “disgrace” who doesn’t understand selfless service or courage. In Monaca, Pennsylvania, Biden called Trump a “loser,” citing a report in the Atlantic magazine that the president called soldiers who died in combat “losers.” Trump has denied making the remark.

Both campaigns say they can win, though Biden has the upper hand with leads in national and most swing state polls. Trump, who has an even narrower path than four years ago to the 270 Electoral College votes needed for victory, is betting on heavy turnout by his core supporters on Election Day.

The president already has also foreshadowed a legal battle to challenge the counting of mail-in ballots in states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

At stake is the direction of a country facing myriad crises, including a resurgent pandemic and a nationwide reckoning over racial justice and police brutality.

More than 95 million people have already voted, according to the US Elections Project, meaning that Trump and Biden are fighting over an increasingly small swathe of voters on the campaign’s final day.

Pandemic’s role

For months, the pandemic has been top of mind for US citizens. More than 231,000 people have died as a result of Covid-19 and over 9.2 million have contracted the virus. While the economy has begun to bounce back, those gains are threatened by a spate of new infections in dozens of states and the government’s failure to approve a new round of virus aid.

The coronavirus outbreak completely reshaped the race. Trump had been in a strong position early this year after surviving impeachment and benefiting from a booming economy.

Voters have rated Trump’s virus response poorly and the president has continued to flout public-health recommendations, such as by holding large rallies, even after he was hospitalised with Covid-19 early last month.

Biden leads Trump by 6.8 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, but that is his lowest lead in months. He also is in front of the Republican in polling averages of nearly every battleground state, except for Ohio, where Trump has a 1.4 percentage point advantage.

Chance of winning

Biden’s chances of winning the Electoral College rose to a record high 90 percent, according to the latest run of poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight’s election forecasting model, from 89.3 percent on November 1.

Nonetheless, Trump’s team sees a narrow window for the president to win a second term. He is likely to lose in Michigan and Wisconsin, two upper Upper Midwestern states that he won in 2016, according to a person working on Trump’s re-election effort. But he believes he can keep Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia in his column, and campaign advisers are also optimistic about Florida, Iowa and Arizona.

Biden has cemented his advantage by winning support among seniors and White women, two groups that helped Trump pull off a stunning upset against Hillary Clinton in 2016. But Trump’s team is banking on high turnout among suburban men to boost the president, said the person working on Trump’s re-election, who requested anonymity to discuss the campaign’s thinking.

Biden added a last-minute stop in Cleveland on Monday after Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, urged him to make a final pitch to his state’s voters. Biden attacked Trump’s stewardship of the economy and trade policies.

“Donald Trump betrayed Ohio workers,” Biden said.

The former vice-president also assailed Trump for his criticism of the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci. A chant of “Fire Fauci” erupted at a Trump rally early Monday morning with the president quipping that he’d wait until after the election if he were to do anything.

“I got a better idea,” Biden said. “I’m gonna hire Dr. Fauci, and we’re gonna fire Donald Trump.”

The president repeated his assertion that Biden “wants to have you locked down.” Biden has said he would listen to scientists about whether to close the economy but hasn’t said he wants an immediate shutdown.

In Pennsylvania, Trump said at a rally that lockdowns under Biden would mean “no school, no graduation, weddings, no Easter.”

“A vote for Biden is a vote for lockdowns, layoffs and misery,” Trump said.

Mail voting

The pandemic has led to record numbers of voters casting ballots early at polling places or through the mail. The early-voting surge means it will likely take longer for states to count all of the ballots.

The Trump campaign argues that Biden hasn’t banked enough mail in votes in battleground states. “The president’s supporters will vote in massive numbers on Election Day,” said Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman.

Trump has baselessly argued that mail-in ballots will lead to widespread fraud and has refused to unequivocally say whether he would accept the election results.

“As soon as that election is over, we’re going in with our lawyers,” Trump told reporters on Sunday.

The Supreme Court has refused to block a Pennsylvania court’s order to allow ballots received as many as three days after Election Day. Trump called the decision “dangerous.” It is possible the high court could take up the issue again after November 3.

by Jordan Fabian, Mario Parker & Tyler Pager, Bloomberg

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