WASHINGTON – President Trump and challenger Joe Biden began a final blitz of battleground states on Sunday, trading accusations and scouring for the rare voter who might still be swayed with 48 hours left in their caustic campaign.
Trump, trailing in fundraising and polls, had the more aggressive itinerary, hopscotching from Michigan to planned stops in Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Speaking outside Detroit, amid rain and temperatures in the 30s, the president delivered an hourlong address full of conspiracy theories, bold predictions and personal attacks against Biden and other Democrats.
He spoke only passingly about the worsening coronavirus pandemic, promising that a vaccine was “coming in a matter of weeks” and slamming Democratic governors for shutting down businesses to fight the spread of COVID-19. At one point, he suggested that social distancing and other public health measures had been promoted in vain.
“The whole world has gone through a lot. And for what?” he said.
Biden planned a series of stops across Pennsylvania, which has emerged as a pivot point in the race. Polls of the state give the former vice president a steady but not overwhelming lead in the fight for its 20 electoral votes.
Trump’s narrow Pennsylvania win four years ago, combined with upsets in Michigan and Wisconsin, put him in the White House despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
Even before Biden’s scheduled rally in Philadelphia, campaign animosity followed him to Sunday worship.
In his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, a group of protesters heckled Biden as he entered the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church, a sign of the antagonism of this election.
While Biden worked to nail down Pennsylvania, his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, reached deep into Republican territory, stumping in Atlanta. Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in North Carolina, one of the closest-fought states in the past several presidential campaigns.
A new batch of polls showed that for all the year’s volatility – pandemic, protests, economic hardship – the presidential contest remains remarkably stable, with the Democrats continuing to hold a significant advantage in nationwide surveys and a smaller but durable edge over Trump in most battleground states.
Voters continued to cast early ballots in record numbers. By Sunday morning, more than 93 million Americans had voted, with Democrats holding a significant edge in the early turnout. Republicans hope to make up the difference, and then some, with a strong election day showing.
The Trump campaign continued its effort to undermine confidence in the vote, raising groundless fears of cheating and other chicanery.
“If you speak with many smart Democrats, they believe that President Trump will be ahead on election night … and then they’re going to try to steal it back after the election,” Jason Miller, a Trump campaign aide, said on ABC.
It is standard practice in many states and perfectly legal for ballots that are cast early or postmarked on election day to be counted after polls close.
Other Republicans sought to distance themselves from provocative or aggressive acts by Trump supporters, even though the president himself applauded such actions.
Ronna McDaniel, head of the Republican National Committee, sidestepped questions about Trump’s approving retweet of a video that showed a Biden campaign bus in Texas being encircled by a convoy of trucks flying Trump flags.
“Certainly you don’t want harm, and we shouldn’t be hurting other people,” McDaniel said on CBS, adding that “the president would not endorse that.”
In Michigan, Trump spoke only briefly of the episode – again praising his supporters – as he pressed the case that Biden and Harris would hamper the country’s economic recovery.
“They want to close down your factories, ship your jobs to China, end private healthcare, destroy the suburbs,” the president said, before reacting to shouts from the crowd and diverting from his scripted remarks.
“I always say, the women!” he shouted. “The women of the suburbs, you gotta love me!”
A short time later, Trump cut off his own scripted lines about efforts to stop refugees from coming to the U.S., joking about the frigid temperature.
“With this weather, they’re not coming,” he said. “Syria looks great!”
Supporters shivering in the cold laughed as he mocked Biden’s small, socially distanced crowds – intended to fight the spread of the coronavirus – and called the former vice president “a dummy and a half.”
The crowd took up a familiar cry from 2016, repurposed for the current campaign. “Lock him up!” they chanted.
Stokols and King reported from Washington. Staff Writer Mark Z. Barabak contributed from San Francisco.
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