SAINT PAUL, Oct 31, 2020 (AFP) – Joe Biden intensified his attacks Friday on President Donald Trump as they battled over the American Midwest, chasing every last vote with four days to go in a region that propelled the Republican to victory in 2016.
Trump and Biden barnstormed three heartland states each, but the race was overshadowed by the pandemic with coronavirus infections spiking across the country and 94,000 new infections recorded Friday — a new high for the second day running — and total cases passing nine million.
Trump heralded a “big day” of campaigning as he left the White House, then held a rally in Michigan before heading to 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 bucked his own administration’s health experts’ advice as he downplayed the Covid-19 threat, saying “if you get it, you’re going to get better, and then you’re going to be immune.”
Covid-19 has killed nearly 230,000 people in the US, and hospitals are bracing as the winter flu season looms.
The outbreak has ravaged the economy, and while there have been signs of recovery, millions remain jobless.
Biden was also stumping 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 keep his taxes secret to climate change and trade policy with China.
“We can not afford four more years of Donald Trump,” the 77-year-old 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.
“Honk your horn if you want to have civility again, and honk your horn if you want America to be united again!”
Earlier in Iowa, he attacked Trump over his handling of the pandemic.
“Donald Trump has given up (and) waved the white flag,” Biden told a drive-in rally with more than 300 cars in Des Moines.
Trump flipped Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin from the Democrats to clinch his shock victory four years ago.
Now polls show Biden leading in all three, albeit narrowly in Iowa.
It was Biden’s first visit to Iowa since his inauspicious campaign started in February, when he placed a dismal fourth in the opening Democratic nominating contest.
So can Biden win over enough voters to prevail in the Hawkeye State?
“I wouldn’t put money on it,” Iowa attorney Sara Riley, 61, said at Biden’s event, although she was more confident about him clinching the White House.
“I think Americans, even Trump supporters, want to get to a place where the country is less divided,” Riley said.
With voters concerned about the health hazards of crowded polling stations on November 3, a record 86 million have already cast early ballots by mail or in person.
Even as Covid-19 infections spike, Trump has stuck to his guns, downplaying the dangers and branding Democrats as rampaging “socialists” intent on shuttering the country.
And while he has touted the economic successes of his presidency, including positive GDP figures Thursday, 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 president Jimmy Carter in 1976.
“We have a chance to turn Texas blue,” the 96-year-old Carter said in a fundraising email.
Biden winning there would be a dagger to Trump, but the president dismissed the notion, saying: “Texas, we’re doing very well.”
Trump and Biden are focusing their greatest efforts on traditional battlegrounds that will decide the election — such as Florida, where both campaigned on Thursday.
On Saturday, Biden returns to the Midwest bringing with him perhaps his strongest supporter: former president Barack Obama, making his first joint in-person campaign appearance of the year with his ex-VP.
Motown legend Stevie Wonder will join them, the Biden campaign said.
Trump will spend the day campaigning in the critical state of Pennsylvania, where he narrowly trails Biden in polls.
Biden will follow suit there both Sunday and Monday in a clear sign that his campaign sees the Keystone State as absolutely crucial to his victory. bur-st/jah