COVID SURGE ERODES TRUMP’S SUP­PORT

Pres­i­dent trails Bi­den in Mid­west­ern states that have been hit hard in lat­est wave. He faults the me­dia.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Mege­rian and Me­lanie Mason

WASH­ING­TON — An alarm­ing new surge of coron­avirus in­fec­tions drowned out Pres­i­dent Trump’s false claims that the health cri­sis was “end­ing,” im­per­il­ing his re­elec­tion chances as hos­pi­tals strug­gled Wed­nes­day with a ris­ing COVID- 19 caseload in key bat­tle­ground states.

Of­fi­cials recorded more than 70,000 new in­fec­tions a day across the coun­try over the last week, more than ever be­fore, with a record num­ber re­ported in 29 states. As win­ter ap­proaches and peo­ple spend more time in­doors, the tally is ex­pected to rise.

Although the pan­demic has un­der­cut Trump’s re­elec­tion bid since the spring, the lat­est surge — es­pe­cially in sev­eral Mid­west­ern states — poses spe­cial per­ils for the pres­i­dent, whom vot­ers largely blame in polls for the wors­en­ing out­break and re­sult­ing eco­nomic up­heaval.

With only six days un­til vot­ing ends, Trump has re­sponded by down­play­ing the dan­ger and ac­cus­ing the me­dia of fo­cus­ing on the con­ta­gion to hurt him po­lit­i­cally. “Covid, Covid, Covid,” he groused Wed­nes­day on Twit­ter, in­sist­ing that after Nov. 3 “the talk will be how low the death rate is.”

More than 227,000 peo­ple have died of COVID- 19 in the U. S. since Fe­bru­ary, more than any other coun­try.

Among the states hard­est hit in the cur­rent wave is Wis­con­sin, which Trump won in 2016 but where polls show him now trail­ing be­hind Joe Bi­den, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee. Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence cam­paigned in the state Wed­nes­day, although his chief of staff and four other aides re­cently tested pos­i­tive for the virus.

Hos­pi­tals in Wis­con­sin are near­ing ca­pac­ity, the state re­cently saw a record­high num­ber of deaths in a sin­gle day, and in­fec­tions are ris­ing sharply. State health of­fi­cials urged res­i­dents to leave home only when ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary and warned the cri­sis would con­tinue es­ca­lat­ing.

The virus also is rag­ing in sev­eral other hotly con­tested bat­tle­ground states that could de­cide the elec­tion, in­clud­ing Iowa, Michi­gan and Ohio. Bi­den leads or is closely com­pet­ing with Trump in those states.

In scathing re­marks Wed­nes­day near his home in Wilm­ing­ton, Del., Bi­den said Trump had given up fight­ing the pan­demic, ac­cus­ing the White House of is­su­ing a “dec­la­ra­tion of sur­ren­der to the virus.”

Fol­low­ing a brief­ing by the public health ex­perts who ad­vise him, Bi­den ar­gued that Trump’s re­fusal to ac­knowl­edge re­al­ity “is an in­sult to ev­ery sin­gle per­son suf­fer­ing from COVID- 19.”

The for­mer vice pres­i­dent, who spoke shortly be­fore he cast an early bal­lot, also blasted the Trump cam­paign for strand­ing sup­port­ers in frigid tem­per­a­tures after a rally Tues­day night in Omaha.

Sev­eral at­ten­dees were rushed to hos­pi­tals after they waited hours for shut­tles to take them to their cars parked miles away.

“It’s an im­age that cap­tures Don­ald Trump’s whole ap­proach to this cri­sis,” Bi­den said. “He makes a lot of big pro­nounce­ments but they don’t hold up. He gets his photo op and he gets out.”

More than 71 mil­lion peo­ple have voted early so far, or more than half the to­tal of 139 mil­lion who voted in 2016, a trend that re­flects both in­tense in­ter­est in the elec­tion and new vot­ing pat­terns due to the pan­demic.

Trump has in­sisted that the threat is overblown. Cam­paign­ing in Wis­con­sin on Tues­day, he railed against the state’s coron­avirus re­stric­tions — “Open it up,” he de­manded — while thou­sands of sup­port­ers, many with­out masks, packed a speed­way in West Salem.

On Wed­nes­day, speak­ing in Bull­head City, Ariz., he mocked those who wear masks, falsely declar­ing that Cal­i­for­nia re­quires a “spe­cial mask” even when eat­ing.

“Boy, you know, when you have spaghetti and meat sauce, that mask is not look­ing...,” he said, trail­ing off and shak­ing his head.

He again boasted about his re­cov­ery from COVID- 19 after he was hos­pi­tal­ized for three nights, and given ex­per­i­men­tal drugs, early this month. First Lady Me­la­nia Trump and their son, Bar­ron, also tested pos­i­tive in a coron­avirus out­break that swept through parts of the West Wing.

A cam­paign ad­vi­sor, who re­quested anonymity to speak can­didly, de­fended Trump’s re­marks as pro­ject­ing “op­ti­mism” be­cause he got bet­ter thanks to “new ther­a­peu­tics.”

One of Trump’s core clos­ing ar­gu­ments to vot­ers — that he is the bet­ter can­di­date to re­vive the econ­omy and pro­tect stocks held in 401( k) re­tire­ment ac­counts — also took a hit Wed­nes­day as the Dow Jones in­dus­trial av­er­age tum­bled 943 points. The closely watched stock mar­ket in­dex has fallen more than 5% since Mon­day as the pan­demic wors­ened and con­gres­sional talks for a new eco­nomic re­lief pack­age ap­peared to col­lapse.

“Ex­pec­ta­tions that COVID- 19 would be un­der con­trol by now have van­ished, and we see stocks fall­ing by an­other 10- 20% from here,” said James Mc­Don­ald, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Los An­ge­les- based Her­cules In­vest­ments.

A new Wash­ing­ton Post/ ABC News poll showed how Wis­con­sin’s strug­gle with the coron­avirus — and Trump’s re­sponse — has hurt the pres­i­dent’s chances for re­elec­tion.

Al­most two- thirds of the state’s vot­ers worry that some­one in their fam­ily will con­tract the virus, and Bi­den is lead­ing that group, 75% to 22%. In ad­di­tion, vot­ers sup­port the state’s re­stric­tions on busi­nesses and public gath­er­ings by a wide mar­gin, 68% to 28%.

Only 39% of vot­ers said they ap­proved of Trump’s han­dling of the pan­demic, and only 31% said they trusted him on the is­sue more than Bi­den.

An­other Wis­con­sin poll re­leased Wed­nes­day, by the Mar­quette Univer­sity Law School in Mil­wau­kee, showed Bi­den lead­ing by 5 per­cent­age points. A ma­jor­ity of the state’s vot­ers, 55%, said they were at least some­what wor­ried about con­tract­ing COVID.

The poll il­lus­trates how con­cern about COVID is af­fect­ing peo­ple’s votes, even across party lines.

The poll­sters found that about a f ifth of Repub­li­cans who say they are very wor­ried about com­ing down with COVID are vot­ing for Bi­den. So are a third of Repub­li­can- lean­ing in­de­pen­dents who say they are very wor­ried.

While those groups aren’t huge, the de­fec­tions from the usual GOP sup­port for Trump are enough to ac­count for a sig­nif­i­cant share of Bi­den’s lead in the state.

On Wed­nes­day, Wis­con­sin’s hos­pi­tals were at 85% ca­pac­ity and “on the brink of ex­treme strain,” said Ajay K. Sethi, an in­fec­tious dis­ease ex­pert at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin’s Global Health In­sti­tute.

He said the state took months to reg­is­ter its f irst 100,000 cases, and then just a few weeks to dou­ble that. “That kind of ac­cel­er­a­tion doesn’t bode well for the com­ing months,” Sethi said.

Democrats ar­gue that vot­ers will not for­give Trump’s re­sponse to the pan­demic.

“Bad public health pol­icy is bad pol­i­tics,” said Guy Ce­cil, who leads Pri­or­i­ties USA, a Demo­cratic su­per PAC blan­ket­ing the air­waves to sup­port Bi­den. “Vot­ers un­der­stand this.”

Although Trump has touted his cheer­ing crowds as ev­i­dence of his sup­port, Ce­cil said that “he is ac­tu­ally hurt­ing him­self by trav­el­ing the coun­try hold­ing these ral­lies” and show­ing he isn’t tak­ing the virus se­ri­ously.

The White House con­tends that Trump sim­ply isn’t get­ting credit for his lead­er­ship, and as ev­i­dence the White House Of­fice of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Pol­icy re­leased a state­ment that claimed “end­ing the COVID- 19 pan­demic” among the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­com­plish­ments.

“From the out­set of the COVID- 19 pan­demic, the Ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken de­ci­sive ac­tions to en­gage sci­en­tists and health pro­fes­sion­als in academia, in­dus­try, and gov­ern­ment to un­der­stand, treat, and de­feat the dis­ease,” it read.

Alyssa Far­rah, the White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, ac­knowl­edged Wed­nes­day on Fox News that the list of ac­com­plish­ments was “poorly worded.”

An­drew Harnik As­so­ci­ated Press

JOE BI­DEN and wife Jill leave the Carvel State Of­fice Build­ing after vot­ing early on Wed­nes­day in Wilm­ing­ton, Del. Two polls show Bi­den is lead­ing in key Mid­west­ern states hard­est hit in the new surge of virus cases.

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