Can­di­dates court must-win states

Trump aims to shore up South as Bi­den hits Mid­west

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Steve Peo­ples, Dar­lene Su­perville and Bill Barrow

FORT MY­ERS, Fla. — Fac­ing fi­nan­cial strains, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump went af­ter his op­po­nent’s fam­ily and de­fended his own strug­gle to con­tain the pan­demic on Fri­day as he fought to en­er­gize his sag­ging re­elec­tion bid in the na­tion’s Sun­belt.

With Elec­tion Day loom­ing, Demo­crat Joe Bi­den pushed to keep vot­ers fo­cused on health care in the Mid­west.

Trump was cam­paign­ing in Florida and Ge­or­gia, neigh­bor­ing states he car­ried four years ago and must win again to ex­tend his pres­i­dency.

The pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to de­vote Fri­day evening’s prime-time slot to a rally Ge­or­gia in par­tic­u­lar high­lighted the se­ri­ous na­ture of the chal­lenge he is fac­ing in the 2020 con­test’s clos­ing days: Far from his cam­paign’s orig­i­nal plan to ex­pand into Demo­cratic-lean­ing states, he is la­bor­ing to stave off a de­feat of ma­jor pro­por­tions.

No Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date has lost Ge­or­gia since Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush in 1992. And ear­lier this week, Trump had to court vot­ers in Iowa, a state he car­ried by al­most 10 points four years ago.

In Florida on Fri­day, the pres­i­dent de­rided the Bi­dens as “an or­ga­nized crime fam­ily,” re­new­ing his daily claims about the can­di­date’s son, Hunter, and his busi­ness deal­ings in Ukraine and China.

More to the point for Trump’s Florida au­di­ence, he spoke di­rectly to se­niors who ap­pear to have in­creas

in­gly soured on his han­dling of the pan­demic.

“I am mov­ing heaven and earth to safe­guard our se­niors from the China virus,” Trump said, us­ing his usual of­fen­sive term to de­scribe the coron­avirus. He also of­fered an op­ti­mistic as­sess­ment of the pan­demic, even as a surge of new in­fec­tions spread across Amer­ica.

“We are pre­vail­ing,” the pres­i­dent said, promis­ing to de­liver the first doses of a vac­cine to se­niors when it’s ready.

De­spite the self-af­firm­ing talk, Trump’s ac­tions on

the ground in Florida un­der­scored the con­flict­ing mes­sages his ad­min­is­tra­tion has sent through­out the pan­demic. All of the pres­i­dent’s se­cu­rity per­son­nel and sup­port staff were wear­ing face masks when Air Force One touched down, but Trump and Florida’s Repub­li­can Gov. Ron DeSan­tis were bare faced.

Many peo­ple in the crowds gath­ered at the pres­i­dent’s sub­se­quent events were with­out masks as well.

It was just the op­po­site as Bi­den opened his Michi­gan swing at a sub­ur­ban Detroit

com­mu­nity cen­ter.

In keep­ing with his usual pro­to­cols, Bi­den and all of the par­tic­i­pants wore masks through­out the event, ex­cept when they were speak­ing, and a small crowd of dozens of re­porters and sup­port­ers watched from fold­ing chairs sep­a­rated by cir­cles to en­sure so­cial dis­tanc­ing.

“He’s liv­ing in a dream world,” Bi­den said of Trump’s rosy pre­dic­tions of the pan­demic. The for­mer vice pres­i­dent then turned to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s court fight to over­turn the “Oba­macare”

health cov­er­age law — in­clud­ing its pro­tec­tion for peo­ple with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions — with­out pro­duc­ing a re­place­ment plan.

“Mis­han­dling the pan­demic isn’t enough for Trump,” Bi­den charged. “On top of that he’s still try­ing to take away your health care.”

Mean­while, the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign re­leased new num­bers sug­gest­ing he’s likely the first in­cum­bent pres­i­dent to face a fi­nan­cial dis­ad­van­tage in the mod­ern era.

Trump’s cam­paign, along with the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee and as­so­ci­ated groups, raised $247.8 mil­lion in Septem­ber, well short of the $383 mil­lion raised by Bi­den and the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. To open Oc­to­ber, the Trump ef­fort of­fi­cially had $251.4 mil­lion in the bank, ac­cord­ing to a cam­paign spokesman, com­pared to $432 mil­lion for Bi­den.

The pres­i­dent was seek­ing mo­men­tum on the cam­paign trail a day af­ter he and Bi­den squared off in du­el­ing tele­vised town halls that show­cased strik­ing dif­fer­ences in tem­per­a­ment, views on racial jus­tice and ap­proaches to the pan­demic, which has claimed more than 218,000 lives in the United States.

On Fri­day in Michi­gan, Bi­den de­nounced the White House’s han­dling of the virus, declar­ing that Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion was at fault for clos­ing a pan­demic re­sponse of­fice es­tab­lished by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in which he served.

“It’s get­ting worse, as pre­dicted,” Bi­den said in Michi­gan of the ris­ing coron­avirus num­bers. “The pres­i­dent knew and lied about know­ing.”

While de­cid­edly on the de­fen­sive on the ground in key states, Trump re­leased a scathing new ad on Fri­day at­tack­ing Bi­den’s record on race. Specif­i­cally, the ad seizes on Bi­den’s sup­port for a crim­i­nal jus­tice law that dis­pro­por­tion­ately pun­ished peo­ple of color.

“He in­sulted us, jailed us, we must not elect him pres­i­dent,” the nar­ra­tor de­clares.

It’s un­clear whether the at­tack ad will break through the sat­u­rated air­waves. Bi­den and his al­lies are out­spend­ing Trump and his al­lies on paid ad­ver­tis­ing more than 2-1 through Elec­tion Day, ac­cord­ing to the ad­ver­tis­ing tracking firm Kan­tar/CMAG.

CAROLYN KASTER/AP

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den waves af­ter land­ing at Detroit Met­ro­pol­i­tan Air­port on Fri­day.

EVAN VUCCI/AP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ar­rives at a rally in Ocala, Florida, on Fri­day. Af­ter­ward, he trav­eled to neigh­bor­ing Ge­or­gia.

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