Trump, Biden barrel through key states on final weekend before vote

AFP , Saturday 31 Oct 2020

The election takes place in a deeply divided country, with feelings so raw and polarization so pronounced that gun sales have surged in some areas and law enforcement agencies have made contingency plans for possible violence

This combination of pictures created on October 31, 2020 shows Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden removing his mask as he delivers remarks on Covid-19 at The Queen theater on October 23, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware and US President Donald Trump removing his mask upon return to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on October 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. AFP.

With Tuesday's US presidential election only days away, Donald Trump, Joe Biden and their top surrogates were barreling through the crucial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania on Saturday, digging deep as they pressed their closing arguments.

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.

For the first time since the start of the campaign, Biden, 77, will be joined on stage in Michigan by his former boss and most popular campaigner, former president Barack Obama.

They'll put on drive-in rallies in the cities of Flint and Detroit. Detroit native Stevie Wonder is expected to be the musical guest of the evening.

Trump, 74, won the industrial state by a narrow margin of 0.2 points in 2016 -- but this year the former vice president leads by nearly seven points, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls.

That would seem to put him in pole position to take its 16 electoral votes, a sizable leap towards the 270 he needs to win the White House.

For the past week Obama has put his popularity at the service of his former vice president, hosting several rallies at which he repeatedly slammed Trump's response to the pandemic, notably in the crucially important states of Florida and Pennsylvania.

But Trump -- who has dismissed Obama's rallies as much smaller than his own -- will himself head to Pennsylvania Saturday, where he will host three rallies, a sign of how key the state is to his own path to 270 votes.

He won Pennsylvania, where Biden was born, by a razor-thin margin against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Every ballot will therefore count on November 3 if he hopes to claim its 20 electoral votes once more.

Biden will follow suit there both Sunday and Monday in a clear sign that his campaign also sees the Keystone State as absolutely crucial to victory.

The election takes place in a deeply divided country, with feelings so raw and polarization so pronounced that gun sales have surged in some areas and law enforcement agencies have made contingency plans for possible violence.

- Chasing every vote -
On Friday the two candidates carried their battle to the American Midwest, barnstorming three heartland states each as they chased every last vote in a region that propelled the Republican to victory in 2016.

The race has been overshadowed by the pandemic, with infections spiking across the country. More than 94,000 new infections were recorded Friday -- a new high for the second day running -- and total cases passed nine million.

Nevertheless Trump, who has long said the virus will "disappear," remained defiant at rallies in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

"We just want normal," he told supporters -- many of them unmasked -- at an outdoor rally near Detroit as he pushed states to relax public health restrictions and resume daily life.

He again downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, saying, "If you get it, you're going to get better, and then you're going to be immune."

The virus has killed nearly 230,000 Americans.

US hospitals are bracing as infections soar in nearly every state, with winter flu season looming.

The outbreak has ravaged the economy, and while there have been signs of recovery, millions remain jobless.

Trump has touted the economic successes of his presidency, including positive GDP figures Thursday. But US stocks closed out their worst week since March, highlighting concerns about a shaky recovery.

- 'Turn Texas blue?' -
After a campaign largely muted by the pandemic, Biden is on the offensive, pushing Trump onto the back foot in unexpected battlegrounds like Texas, a large, traditionally conservative bastion now rated a toss-up by multiple analysts.

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

Biden's running mate Kamala Harris visited Texas Friday in a bid to turn the state Democratic for the first time since Jimmy Carter won there in 1976.

A Biden victory there would be a major blow to Trump, but the president dismissed the notion, saying: "Texas, we're doing very well."

Biden also stumped Friday in Wisconsin and in Minnesota, where he sharpened his attacks on the president on everything from Trump seeking to dismantle Obama-era health care protections and keeping his taxes secret to climate change and trade policy with China.

"We cannot afford four more years of Donald Trump," the Democrat said at a socially distanced drive-in rally in St. Paul, Minnesota.

"So honk your horn if you want America to lead again!" he said, embracing the awkward pandemic-era campaign trend of rallying supporters in their vehicles.

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