Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump moved their battle to the critical region of the Midwest on the final Friday before the election, crossing paths in Wisconsin and Minnesota as Biden moves to expand the electoral map by wooing the blue-collar voters who flocked to Trump in 2016.
Trump touched down for his first stop in Waterford Township, Michigan, Friday, tossing red “Make America Great Again” hats to the crowd, hours after the US passed a daily record with more than 88,000 new coronavirus cases Thursday. As he continued to downplay the fall surge, Trump complained that restrictions in Minnesota would curtail his plans for his final rally of the day in Rochester, Minnesota, where Democratic state officials, adhering to state Department of Health rules, had insisted that his crowd had to be limited to 250 people.
Later that night, as the US approached another daily record for new coronavirus cases, Trump lashed out at the “arrogant, far-left political class” at his Minnesota rally and claimed Democrats like Biden want to “imprison you in your homes while letting anarchists, agitators and vandals roam free as they destroy your cities and states.”
He argued that Biden and state officials, including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, have created two sets of standards — one for the protesters who demonstrated against police brutality after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis – and a different set for his supporters.
Republicans got a win in Minnesota Thursday night when a federal appeals court ruled that mailed-in ballots in the state must be received by elections officials no later than Election Day. While there has not been as much polling on Minnesota, the Washington Post/ABC News poll last month showed Trump down by double digits.
The two candidates crisscrossed the Midwest Friday at a time when Biden is trying to shore up his leads in those states and strengthen his connection to the working class voters that Hillary Clinton neglected in the waning days of her race with Trump four years ago. The former vice president is spending ample time in states that Trump won in 2016, as his team contemplates multiple paths to the 270 electoral votes he needs to win, while Democrats are poised to gain seats in the House and Senate.
Though polls show Trump trailing nationally, the Trump team is confident they can win with explosive turn out on Election Day and a superior ground game.
If Biden is not able to flip battlegrounds that Trump won like Florida, North Carolina and Georgia, he could potentially carve a path to the White House by rebuilding the Democrats’ blue wall in the Rust Belt and capturing Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, while holding Minnesota in the Democratic column.
Trump won those three Midwestern states by less than a percentage point in 2016, and Biden’s kinship with the blue collar voters who live in working class towns like Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he lived as a young boy, was one of the major selling points to Democratic primary voters as he cultivated the image of “middle-class Joe.”
While Trump has campaigned, both in 2016 and 2020, as a voice for the “forgotten men and women” who live in those communities, Biden has argued that the President ignored their needs while helping his wealthy allies – attempting to frame the race as Scranton versus Park Avenue. But Trump has argued that Biden favored trade policies that sent jobs overseas and threw open the border to the detriment of working-class voters.
Biden has succeeded in cutting into Trump’s margins with White voters who do not hold a college degree – a trend he hopes to accelerate in the closing days of the campaign as he visits Midwestern states that include Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.
But Trump rejected Biden’s efforts on Friday as he insisted that the Democrat has no enthusiasm at his campaign events and told Michiganders, misleadingly, that “we’re still rounding the corner” when it comes to coronavirus.
“Four days from now we are going to win this state and we are going on to win four more years in the White House,” Trump said in Michigan. “It’s going to be a victory like no other.”
Trump touted positive economic numbers this week, promising that he would continue to create “jobs, jobs, jobs” after Election Day. In Waterford Township, Trump criticized Biden for supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement when it was approved in 1993, arguing that Biden has demonstrated with his record on trade that he doesn’t care for “working people.” He touted his own efforts to renegotiate with America’s trading partners, which resulted in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“At every turn Biden twisted the knife into the back of Michigan workers and workers all over this country,” Trump said. “In 2016 Michigan voted to fire this corrupt political establishment and you elected an outsider as president who is finally putting America first.”
Responding to Trump in a statement, Biden said Michigan has been “crushed by the President’s failed leadership,” pointing to a drop in manufacturing jobs and the fact that unemployment has more than doubled since February.
Campaigning in Iowa on Friday, Biden called out what he said were GOP voter suppression efforts and asked his supporters not to be dissuaded from turning out at the polls.
“This President has done everything to try to discourage us, to try to convince us that it doesn’t matter,” Biden said in Des Moines, noting the President’s inaccurate claims that there is widespread voter fraud. “But guess what, he will not be able to stop us at all. … We will not be silenced,” he said, noting the more than 80 million people who have already voted.
“Please keep your sense of empowerment; keep your sense of optimism of what we can do together,” Biden said, noting the difficulties of keeping up a positive attitude at a time when the nation has hit the tragic milestone of 9 million coronavirus cases and nearly 230,000 US deaths.
Battle for Florida
A day earlier, Biden had tried to broadcast that same message about the importance of turnout in Florida, a state prized for its 29 electoral votes and its role as a national barometer. The two candidates went head to head there Thursday as polls showed them locked in a tight race. Trump’s path to reelection will be very difficult, though not impossible, without a win in the Sunshine State.
During the final week of ad spending, the joint effort of Biden and the Democratic National Committee is spending more in Florida than any other state ($8.6 million). On the other side of the ledger, Trump and the Republican National Committee are spending more in Michigan ($7.2 million) than any other state.
Biden has maintained a strong fundraising advantage over Trump in the final months of the campaign, and the Democratic effort is on track to outpace the GOP spending effort by nearly $20 million in the final week, according to an analysis of CMAG/Kantar Media data by CNN’s David Wright.
Underscoring the importance of the state, Biden’s visit to Florida Thursday was preceded by events in recent days featuring former President Barack Obama, who won the state twice. And vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will campaign Saturday in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties to try to get voters out to the polls on the final weekend of early voting.
At a time when millions of voters have already cast their ballots in Florida, the Biden campaign dispatched the former vice president to stoke turnout in the reliable Democratic stronghold of Broward County, then rally voters with a bullhorn at a voter activation center in Fort Lauderdale, finishing the day in the critical swing corridor of Tampa, where the President had stopped just hours before.
At the socially distant drive-in rally in South Florida’s Broward County – where Biden thanked attendees for wearing masks and staying six feet apart – the former vice president called on Floridians to change the course of the pandemic and choose “science over fiction,” by using their state to block Trump’s path to reelection.
“The heart and soul of this country’s at stake right in Florida. It’s up to you. You hold the key,” Biden told a diverse group of voters. “If Florida goes blue, it’s over. It’s over.”
Trump, who won Florida with just over 100,000 votes in that campaign against Clinton, argued that electing Biden would lead to a national lockdown and subsequent economic collapse because of his more conservative approach to the virus.
He predicted the US would see “the greatest red wave” in history on Tuesday: “Five days from now we are going to win Florida and we are going to win four more years in the White House,” Trump said during the Tampa rally where he appeared with his wife, first lady Melania Trump.
But for all of Trump’s optimism about a potential “red wave,” CNN’s Poll of Polls shows Biden leading Trump in Florida 49% to 46% with no margin of sampling error.
With Trump headed to Green Bay and Biden to Milwaukee on Friday, the picture looks even more difficult for the President in Wisconsin, which he won by less than a percentage point in 2016 and where Biden is leading Trump by a 9-point margin in CNN’s Poll of Polls.
Trump mocks Biden’s coronavirus precautions
One of the perils for Trump in Florida and parts of the Midwest is his sliding support among seniors, which has been driven in part by broad disapproval of his handling of the coronavirus and the fact that older voters have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19.
In spite of that vulnerability, the President downplayed the fall surge in coronavirus cases during his huge rally in Tampa – where few supporters wore masks and there was no social distancing. At one point, Trump told rallygoers: “We know the disease. We social distance. We do all of the things that you have to do. … If you get close, wear a mask.”
Yet CNN’s Maegan Vazquez and Donald Judd reported that most in Trump’s Tampa crowd Thursday were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, packed so tightly together that several attendees required medical attention due to the heat.
Trump on Thursday also mocked Biden for following US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and made fun of Biden’s events where attendees are separated by circles, as well as his drive-in rallies, where voters are asked to stay by their cars to ensure proper distancing.
While boasting that his own rallies could draw tens of thousands of people – at a time when all reputable medical experts are asking Americans to avoid mass gatherings – Trump claimed that the smaller attendance prescribed by the Biden campaign is driven by a lack of enthusiasm.
“Now they try and say it’s because of Covid,” Trump said. “They say the fact that he has nobody at all show up is because of Covid. No, it’s because nobody shows up,” Trump said to laughter in Tampa. “And I think that’s the ultimate poll. And based on the numbers that we’re getting, we’re going to do really well on Tuesday.”
Biden criticized Trump’s flaunting of safety guidelines: “Donald Trump just held a superspreader event here again. He’s spreading more than just coronavirus. He’s spreading division and discord,” he said hours later in Tampa.
Earlier in Broward County, Biden chided Trump for refusing to listen to science and attributed the pain, suffering of the pandemic to Trump’s “negligence.”
“Millions of people out there are out of work, on the edge. Can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and Donald Trump has given up,” Biden said. “Donald Trump has waved the white flag, abandoned our families and surrendered to the virus. But the American people don’t give up. We don’t give in. And we surely don’t cower, nor will I under any circumstances.”