CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio/DALLAS, Pa. (Reuters) - President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden gave starkly contrasting messages on Saturday about the coronavirus pandemic, taking their campaigns for the White House on the road to swing states where COVID-19 cases are surging again.
Trump addressed a few thousand supporters at a tightly packed, in-person, outdoor rally in North Carolina, one of the battleground states in the Nov. 3 election. He again said America was turning the corner in the fight against COVID-19 and mocked Biden’s more cautious campaigning style.
Biden, a former vice president, addressed supporters in vehicles at two drive-in rallies in Pennsylvania and warned of a grim winter ahead unless the Trump administration did a better job of halting the disease, which has killed 224,000 Americans.
Opinion polls show Biden leading Trump nationally, but the race is much closer in the battleground states that will decide the election.
In Lumberton, North Carolina, Trump told supporters he was offering a fast recovery from the economic damage wrought by virus lockdowns, which have devastated small businesses and put millions out of work.
“It’s a choice between a Trump super boom and a Biden lockdown,” the Republican president said. “We are rounding the turn,” he said, repeating a claim he has been making for months that America is close to getting the better of the virus.
Late on Saturday a spokesman for Vice President Mike Pence disclosed that Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Pence and his wife tested negative earlier in the day and the vice president will not alter his schedule, the spokesman said.
By contrast, Biden warned that the cold months ahead could be even harsher due to a resurgence of the virus, which has killed more people in the United States than anywhere else and is on the rise in several battleground states.
“It’s going to be a dark winter ahead unless we change our ways,” he said of Trump’s attempts to contain the coronavirus.
Biden was addressing supporters in the town of Bristol who had gathered in pickup trucks or cars, many with their windows or sunroofs down, to avoid possible coronavirus infection. Biden’s campaign limited each vehicle to a maximum of four passengers.
At one point, Biden called out a group of Trump supporters who were shouting into microphones nearby. “We don’t do things like those chumps out there with the microphone are doing. The Trump guys. It’s about decency.”
At his event in Lumberton, Trump made fun of the Biden rally, which he said he had seen on television.
“There were so few cars. I’ve never seen an audience like that,” he said. “It was a tiny, tiny little crowd. You could hear the cars: honk honk.”
The United States set a single-day record of more than 84,000 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, with the spike in infections hitting election swing states Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
North Carolina reported 2,584 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, down from a record high of 2,716 the day before.
Many states have expanded in-person early voting and mail-in ballots as a safer way to vote during the pandemic.
Trump voted in his adopted home of Florida on Saturday, joining more than 56 million Americans who have cast early ballots at a record-setting pace.
Trump cast his ballot at a library in West Palm Beach, near his Mar-a-Lago resort, after switching his permanent residence and voter registration last year from New York to Florida, a must-win battleground for his re-election bid.
In New York state, voters jammed polling places and stood in line for hours to cast ballots on the state’s first day of early voting on Saturday. Long lines formed before polls opened across New York City and Long Island, videos on social media showed.
With 10 days to go in the campaign, the pace of early voting could lead to the highest voter turnout rate in more than a century, according to data from the U.S. Elections Project.
Trump has regularly condemned mail-in voting without evidence as prone to fraud, even though experts say it is as safe as any other method.
The large number of early voters is a sign of the intense interest in this year’s election, as well as concerns about avoiding crowded polling places on Election Day and reducing the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
In Pennsylvania, polls show Biden narrowly leading. A Reuters/Ipsos survey released earlier this week showed Biden with a four-percentage point advantage over Trump in the state, down from seven points the week before.
Apart from the coronavirus, the candidates sparred over energy policy, an important issue in Pennsylvania which is the nation’s second-largest producer of natural gas after Texas.
Biden denied Trump accusations that he plans to ban fracking, a process to extract natural gas from shale.
“I will not ban fracking, period,” he said in Dallas, Pennsylvania at his second rally of the day. “I don’t think big oil companies need a handout from the federal government. We’re gonna get rid of the $40 billion fossil fuel subsidies, and we’re going to invest it in clean energy and carbon capture,” Biden said.
At an outdoor, in-person Trump rally in Circleville, Ohio, the crowd booed at a video Trump played showing various times when Biden said he would like to move away from fossil fuels.
Biden got some help from former President Barack Obama, who held a drive-in rally in Miami and delivered a blistering attack on Trump’s leadership.
“This pandemic would’ve been tough for any president because we haven’t seen something like this in 100 years, but the idea that somehow this White House has done anything but completely screw this up is nonsense,” Obama said.
Reporting by Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Daniel Wallis
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