In campaign’s final week, Biden goes on offense while Trump plays defense
With just one week until election day, Joe Biden is playing offense and President Trump is on the defensive, scrambling to replicate his 2016 come-from-behind victory.
Biden has begun making forays into Republican-leaning states that few expected to be within reach for Democrats, while Trump is campaigning in territory in the upper Midwest where he won four years ago but now trails, according to multiple polls.
The Democratic nominee campaigned Tuesday in GOP-friendly Georgia to evoke the spirit of Franklin D. Roosevelt, making a trip that showcased his confidence in the election outcome and the ambitions of his governing agenda.
Trump stumped in Michigan and Wisconsin, attacking Biden as “corrupt” and vilifying a series of prominent Democrats while boasting of his recovery from COVID-19 and downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic, which has been rapidly worsening in recent weeks across the upper Midwest.
Biden, speaking in the tiny town of about 400 where Roosevelt built a retreat to ease his paralyzed legs in warm mineral waters, Biden offered his closing argument that he would be able to heal the wounds opened by the Trump presidency.
“Our politics for too long have been mean and bitter and divisive — you can hear it now in the distance” Biden said, referring to the sound of pro-Trump protesters who gathered near the venue.
“This place, Warm Springs, is a reminder that, though broken, each of us can be healed. That as a people and a country, we can overcome this devastating virus.… And yes, we can restore our soul and save our country.”
At a drive-in rally later in Atlanta, Biden marveled at the changed political dynamics in Georgia, which hasn’t voted for a Democratic president in more than 25 years.
“You know, there aren’t a lot of pundits who would have guessed four years ago that the Democratic candidate for president 2020 would be campaigning in Georgia,” he said. “Something’s happening here in Georgia and across America. We win Georgia, we win everything.”
The candidates’ dueling appearances underscored how they are pursuing mirror-image strategies in the final week.
While Biden has maintained a light campaign schedule in recent days, Trump was scheduled to plow through three rallies Tuesday in Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska. In Omaha, he is seeking a single electoral college vote he won in 2016 but that Biden is trying to flip. In Nebraska, some electoral college votes are allocated by congressional district.
The former vice president is campaigning with a message of bipartisanship and unity in states that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. Trump is barnstorming on his own 2016 turf, focusing on firing up his political base while making few gestures that might bring undecided voters to his side.
In Wisconsin, a state Trump has tried to court with a “law and order” message following unrest in Kenosha earlier this year, the president claimed Biden was a Trojan horse for his party’s left wing.
“If Biden wins, the flag-burning radicals of the streets will be running your government,” he declared.
Referring to protests in Philadelphia after Monday’s police shooting of a Black man, Trump claimed without evidence that violence was caused by “some Biden-supporting rioters.”
Earlier, at a rainy rally in Lansing, Trump drew chants of “Lock her up” when he took jabs at Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus have been criticized by the right and made her the target of an alleged kidnapping plot.
He criticized Whitmer for closing businesses to limit the spread of the virus and made a plea for support from women that may backfire with many, declaring that with his policies aimed at opening the economy, “we’re getting your husbands back to work.”
In recent rallies, Trump has times made several wistful-sounding comments about the disruptions that have been brought by the pandemic. Another came Tuesday, after he told the Lansing crowd that a vaccine against COVID-19 was “right around the corner.”
“Normal life will fully resume, and that’s what we want. We want normal life, normal life,” he said. “Take us back seven months ago … that’s all we want.”
Paradoxically, it is a desire for a return to normal that is driving many voters, tired of the drama of the Trump presidency, into the Biden camp, polls indicate.
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The candidates’ surrogates and supporters are also fanning out for a final sprint that reinforced the picture of Trump on the defense and Biden mostly on offense.
Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday was in North Carolina, a Trump state in 2016 that Republicans have lost only once in presidential elections since 1976. Sen. Kamala Harris is due to campaign in another big-reach state, Texas, on Friday. But on Tuesday she campaigned in Nevada — one of the few states Democrats won in 2016 that Trump has a shot at flipping.
Lending a hand to Biden’s effort to expand the political map, aides to former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman and former 2020 presidential rival, said he was increasing his campaign ad buy in Florida and putting $15 million into Texas and Ohio.
Trump’s cash-strapped campaign, meanwhile, has pulled back its spending in some states, including Florida, where it has reduced advertising by $1.2 million, according to the tracking firm Advertising Analytics. Trump has also cut spending in Iowa and Nevada, while increasing it in Michigan, Wisconsin and several other states. Overall, he’s being heavily outspent by Biden in most of the nation’s political battlegrounds.
Biden’s travel to Georgia and Iowa, where he is scheduled to appear later this week, could boost the Democrats’ candidates in closely contested Senate races. In Atlanta, he began his rally with a pitch to voters about the importance of their state in the party’s fight to win a Senate majority. The state’s two senators — Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — are facing tough reelection challenges.
“I can’t tell you how important it is that we flip the United States Senate,” Biden said. “There’s no state more consequential than Georgia.”
Some Democrats worry about Biden’s relatively light schedule. And for some, the trips to Georgia and Iowa provoked anxious recollections of 2016, when Clinton made visits late in the campaign to Republican-leaning states like Arizona and Ohio while apparently taking for granted Democratic-leaning states like Wisconsin, which Trump then won.
A Democrat has not won a presidential race in Georgia since Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush by less than one 1 percentage point in 1992.
But Georgia has become gradually more competitive in the last decade. Since 2016, the state has added more than 1 million new voters — many younger and more diverse — to the rolls. In the 2018 race for governor, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp beat Democrat Stacey Abrams by just 1.4%.
Biden and other Democrats are benefitting from eroding support for the GOP in the suburbs, said Bob Trammell, the Democratic leader in the Georgia House, who attended the Biden event.
“A lot of that is in response to Trump himself, and a lot of it is in response to the fact that Republicans are simply out of step with where the electorate is on a whole range of issues,” he said.
Biden’s reception in Georgia was not entirely warm. Before his event, Republican leaders, including Kemp, held a counter-rally to show support for the president.
Trump signs dotted the Roosevelt Highway that leads to the remote Georgia spa town about 60 miles southwest of Atlanta, and motorbikes and pickup trucks roared across town decked out with Trump banners and U.S. flags.
“They’re in the wrong county promoting socialism,” said Joe Stadnik, 62, a truck driver who lives in the nearby town of Hamilton, as he leaned against a pickup truck on the highway outside the resort wearing a Trump 2020 baseball hat and a T-shirt emblazoned with a gray elephant. “They’re in the wrong state.”
There were no big crowds of Democrats welcoming Biden, as the campaign has kept its events small and socially distanced because of the pandemic. But a few locals stood outside in the hope of catching a glimpse of the former vice president.
“It means so much that he cares about the little people,” said Jacquelyn Walton, a 55-year-old educator who lives nearby. “He has a good chance of winning Georgia.”
Hook reported from Washington, Jarvie from Warm Springs, Ga., and Stokols from Lansing, Mich., and West Salem, Wis. Times staff writer Michael Finnegan contributed to this report from Los Angeles.
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