Donald Trump embarked on a blistering final campaign sprint on Sunday, lining up 10 rallies in seven swing states over two days, in an effort to defy consistently negative polls and replicate his shock election win in 2016.
The president’s final 2020 tour, which began on Sunday morning in Michigan, is aimed at holding on to the states he won narrowly four years ago and shoring up support in traditional Republican strongholds, like North Carolina and Georgia, where Democrats are mounting serious challenges in presidential and Senate contests.
Joe Biden was due to hold two drive-in meetings on Sunday in Pennsylvania, one of a string of former Democratic bastions in the north-east which Trump won from Hillary Clinton by less than a percentage point, and which many observers believe could be decisive once more.
New polls published on Sunday showed Biden holding on to a lead in Pennsylvania. A poll by the New York Times and Siena College gave the Democrat a six-point edge, while the Washington Post and ABC showed a seven-point margin.
In Michigan, Trump repeated some of the messages that worked in 2016, highlighting the impact of globalisation on the car industry.
“I gave you a lot of auto plants, so I think we’re even,” he told a crowd at a wind- and rain-swept rally in the town of Washington.
One new car plant has been announced since Trump took office, while Michigan car and vehicle part manufacturing jobs had fallen by 2,400 even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Employment in the sector is down more than 18,000 in the state, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Trump’s other principal line of attack was to warn voters that Biden would lead to a drastic lockdown that would kill over even more jobs. The president has insisted that the nation has “turned the corner” despite record numbers of new daily coronavirus cases across the country, and warnings of a spike in deaths over the winter.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has insisted on holding mass rallies with no social distancing, at which few wear masks. A study by Stanford University economists estimated at least 30,000 coronavirus infections and 700 deaths caused by 18 Trump rallies between June and September.
“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt,” Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious disease told the Washington Post. “It’s not a good situation. All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”
Fauci was the most prominent figure in the White House response in the early months of the pandemic but has been marginalised as the administration has sought to play down the seriousness of the situation.
Scott Atlas, a radiologist with no background in epidemiology, has taken his place as Trump’s favoured adviser. On Sunday, Atlas appeared on the Russian state-controlled RT channel claiming the US was “hysterical” about coronavirus and that lockdowns were a much greater threat.
He said: “The public health leadership have failed egregiously and they’re killing people with their fear-inducing shutdown policies.”
A NBC and Wall Street Journal poll on Sunday put Biden up 10 points, a majority of voters saying they are unhappy with the president’s handling of the pandemic and with the direction of the country. The same poll four years ago had Clinton up but by only four points. In 2016 there were many more undecided and third-party voters.
On Sunday, the Trump camp stepped up signals that they would try to stop the vote count on Tuesday, by going to Republican-leaning courts to cast doubt on the integrity of the enormous volume of postal ballots this year, which in some critical states will take several days to count.
“If you speak with many smart Democrats, they believe that President Trump will be ahead on election night … and then they’re going to try to steal it back after the election,” Jason Miller, a Trump adviser, told ABC’s This Week.
In Texas, a court will hear a lawsuit on Monday aimed at having 117,000 votes in Harris county (central Houston) thrown out because they were cast at curbside ballot boxes set up by the county to make voting easier during the pandemic, which the Republican plaintiffs argue was illegal.
A similar argument was rejected just over a week ago by the Texas supreme court, but a federal district court in Houston has agreed to hear arguments, presided over by an ultra-conservative judge.