TAMPA, Florida: Donald Trump and Joe Biden duelled over the crucial state of Florida on Thursday (Oct 29), painting radically different visions of the United States as big new GDP figures showed the economy getting back on track even as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates again.
With Trump touting an early end to the health crisis, while warning of rampaging “socialists,” and Biden slamming the president as irresponsible and vowing to heal America’s “soul”, voters face a dramatic choice in five days.
Trump, 74, held another big rally in Tampa, telling the cheering crowd that coronavirus lockdowns under Biden, 77, would banish normal life.
“They will allow you nothing,” the Republican said.
“We’re never going to lock down again … We’re open for business,” he said, telling supporters that his own bout with COVID-19 this month proved that it can be beaten.
“You know, the bottom line is you get better,” he said.
The coronavirus has already taken 228,000 American lives and is strongly rebounding nationwide in a long-predicted end-of-summer second wave.
Officials in Gastonia, North Carolina, warned people who attended an Oct 21 Trump rally there that two people who took part tested positive for COVID-19.
Trump’s own White House coronavirus task force is warning of a persistent and broad spread of COVID-19 in the western half of the United States, including in a number of states that will play an important role in the election.
But Trump, badly behind in the polls, is counting on economic recovery and fear-mongering about the Democrats turning the United States into a leftist failed state to outweigh Biden’s message over health.
He got good news on that score Thursday with new figures showing an annual rate of growth of 33.1 per cent in the third quarter – a jaw-dropping statistic that reflected the fact that the economy is rebounding from such a low base.
“So glad this great GDP number came out before November 3rd,” Trump wrote in a tweet.
READ: Trump and Biden’s final economic pitch: GDP growth vs ‘deep hole’
In a bid to soften Trump’s abrasive image – beloved by his base but a turn-off to swing voters – he was introduced at the rally by his wife Melania, a rare presence on the campaign trail.
“We are a country of hope, not a country of fear or weakness and we have a leader who shows us that every single day,” said the first lady, 50, who immigrated to the United States from Slovenia as a young model.
With its 29 electoral votes, the state is a major prize in Tuesday’s election. Trump’s victory in Florida in 2016 was vital to his surprise election win.
‘HEART AND SOUL’
Biden, addressing a socially distanced drive-in event in Broward County, reminded supporters that of all the states there are few as important as Florida in deciding the outcome of tight elections.
“Right here in Florida, it’s up to you. You hold the key. If Florida goes blue, it’s over! It’s over!” he said ahead of a second event in Tampa.
Rebuffing Trump’s central charge, Biden emphasised his claim that he would bring responsible leadership after months of attempts by the White House to play down the virus’ danger.
“I’m not going to shut down the economy. I’m not going to shut down the country. But I am going to shut down the virus,” he said.
While Trump mocks him for holding small campaign events, Biden said he was showing an example, instead of staging the president’s “super spreader events”.
“He’s spreading more virus around the country and here in Florida today he’s spreading division,” Biden said. “We need a president who’s going to bring us together, not pull us apart …. The heart and soul of this country is at stake.”
Both candidates will be hopping from swing state to swing state in the last hours up to Tuesday. Trump will set the pace, with a frenetic schedule, but Biden’s strikingly quiet campaign is also revving up.
After Florida, Trump was to fly to Fort Bragg in the toss-up state of North Carolina for a meeting with troops. A planned rally in Fayetteville was postponed until Monday due to the weather, the campaign said.
Biden’s own Tampa speech was cut short by a sudden downpour. He is expected to travel to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa on Friday.
In all, Trump plans to visit 10 states in the last days of the campaign and will host 11 rallies in the final 48 hours, a campaign official said.
More than 80 million Americans have already cast ballots in the presidential election, according to a tally on Thursday from the US Elections Project at the University of Florida, setting the stage for the highest participation rate in over a century.
Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Florida in 2016 but an NBC News/Marist poll released on Thursday had Biden with a 51-47 point lead in the state. A new Quinnipiac poll had Biden ahead 45-42 in Florida, with a close race in Iowa, but Biden maintaining slightly larger leads in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
In Florida, the Marist poll showed Biden had a commanding lead among black voters (84-14), women (57-41) and independents (55-41) and was also favoured by seniors (53-46), who make up a large proportion of the voters in the Sunshine State.
“Right now, Biden runs up the score among voters 65-plus and independents – groups Trump carried in 2016,” said Lee Miringoff, who conducted the Marist poll.
“Still, Trump keeps pace with Biden among Latino voters, a group Trump lost badly last time.”
Trump was favoured by Latinos (52-46), white voters (52-45), men (54-44) and white voters without college degrees (62-36) in Florida which has sided with the winner of every presidential election since 1964 with one exception.