Sunshine State showdown: Trump, Biden to take campaign battle to Florida

(Reuters) – With Election Day looming, President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden will both rally supporters on Thursday in the critical battleground state of Florida – campaigning in the same city hours apart and putting their differing approaches to the resurgent coronavirus pandemic on full display.

U.S. President Donald Trump rallies with supporters at Phoenix Goodyear Airport in Goodyear, Arizona, U.S. October 28, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, is a major prize in next Tuesday’s election and a new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Trump and Biden running neck and neck in the state.

With COVID-19 cases raging across the country, 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.

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.

More voters said Biden was better suited to handle the pandemic, by a 48%-42% margin, but Trump got higher marks on the economy, 52% to 41%.

Following his own bout with the coronavirus, the president has conducted a hectic campaign schedule in the days leading up to the election, 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 75 million people have cast early in-person and mail ballots, 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.

CORONAVIRUS ISSUE

U.S. stocks tumbled on Wednesday, with the Dow closing at lows last seen in late July, as coronavirus cases soared globally and investors worried about the possibility of a contested presidential election. [L1N2HJ2VQ]

Trump on Thursday will likely be touting new government data on the nation’s gross domestic product during the third quarter as the economy tries to claw back from bottoming out earlier in the year at the height of the pandemic.

While the numbers are likely to show a record jump in growth as compared with the calamitous second quarter of the year, economists have cautioned that a recovery is far from complete.

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, in turn, has accused Biden of wanting to institute new lockdowns across the nation that would further damage the economy, even as the president continues to downplay the threat posed by the virus.

After his Tampa rally, Trump will head to another key battleground state, North Carolina, to stage an evening event in Fayetteville.

Biden will travel to Wisconsin on Friday and campaign with former President Barack Obama in Michigan on Saturday, the campaign said. Trump’s narrow victories in both states in 2016 helped propel him to the White House.

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