(Updates with quotes from interview)
WASHINGTON, April 29 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump told Reuters on Wednesday he does not believe opinion polls that show his likely Democratic presidential opponent, Joe Biden, leading in the 2020 race for the White House. During an interview in the Oval Office, the Republican president said he did not expect the election to be a referendum on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and added he was surprised the former vice president was doing well.
“I don’t believe the polls,” Trump said. “I believe the people of this country are smart. And I don’t think that they will put a man in who’s incompetent.”
Trump has criticized Biden’s decades-long record as a U.S. senator and as President Barack Obama’s vice president.
“And I don’t mean incompetent because of a condition that he’s got now. I mean he’s incompetent for 30 years. Everything he ever did was bad. His foreign policy was a disaster,” Trump said.
Polls conducted this week by Reuters/Ipsos about a general election matchup showed that 44% of registered voters said they would back Biden in the Nov. 3 election, while 40% said they would support Trump.
More critical for Trump, a recent poll by Reuters/Ipsos of the three key battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania had Biden with a 45%-39% edge over the president. Trump’s victories in those states in the 2016 election helped propel him to the White House.
Trump recently lambasted his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, and other political advisers after they showed him poll numbers showing him losing the re-election race to Biden, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The president was told he was behind Biden in many key battleground states and would have lost the Electoral College if the election had taken place in April.
‘REFERENDUM ON A LOT OF THINGS’
Trump told Reuters he did not view the election as a test of how he did with the pandemic.
“No, I don’t think so. I think it’s a referendum on a lot of things,” Trump said. “I think it’s going to be a referendum on all the things we’ve done and certainly this will be a part of it, but we’ve done a great job.”
Biden has criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump said he would debate Biden in the autumn. “Of course,” he said.
The president has sought to stir up discord in Democratic Party ranks about Senator Bernie Sanders, who dropped out of the Democratic presidential race and endorsed Biden earlier this month.
The president has suggested that if fellow progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren had dropped out of the Democratic contest earlier, Sanders would have prevailed over Biden.
“He should never have won the primary, ever in a million years, because those votes were taken away. They were taken away from Bernie Sanders. And I think I’m going to get a lot of Bernie Sanders voters,” Trump said.
Trump has sought to make the case to Sanders’ supporters that their preferred candidate was not treated fairly, building on resentment that still lingers from 2016 when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton beat Sanders for the nomination before losing to Trump in the general election. (Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and James Oliphant; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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