In a frenzy of final campaigning, Trump airs grievances while Biden says Trump is a disgrace
President Trump unleashed a litany of bitter grievances — including complaints about polls that suggest he may lose Tuesday’s election — while Joe Biden vowed “an end to a presidency that’s divided this nation,” as the two rivals made impassioned pleas to voters Monday in a whirl of last-minute rallies.
Trump spent the final campaign day in a marathon of five raucous rallies, but they were all in states that he won in 2016, showing him fully on the defensive. Biden held his three final events in Ohio and Pennsylvania, battleground states that he hopes will return to the Democratic column and blunt any late Trump surge.
The two campaigns also deployed their running mates, spouses and other surrogates, including former President Obama and Lady Gaga for Biden, in an effort to prod or convince the shrinking number of voters still left after weeks of early voting and a record-breaking onslaught of advertising.
As it has been all year, the two campaigns could not look and sound more different as the final day of voting approached.
Speaking at mostly small, carefully socially-distanced rallies in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Biden hammered Trump for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, staying on script and banking that voters will see his sober approach as a return to normalcy after four years of tumult under Trump.
At his first four boisterous rallies — in Fayetteville, N.C., in Avoca, Pa., Traverse City, Mich., and Kenosha, Wis. — the president repeatedly veered off his scripted remarks, which focused on a promise to re-create the “economic powerhouse” that was wrecked by the pandemic.
Trump instead attacked familiar targets, including his impeachment by the House and subsequent acquittal in the Senate, his 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and her emails, the special counsel investigation into his 2016 campaign’s involvement with Russia, China and the coronavirus that emerged there, and even the polling arm of Fox News, which shows him trailing Biden nationally and in multiple swing states.
But as he has since taking office, he returned again and again to his frustration with the media, blaming journalists for his myriad problems and pointing to the television cameras and reporters corralled in a so-called press pen in front of him.
“We’ve been under a phony fake hoax investigation for three years, nothing but really bad and corrupt publicity from these people,” he said in Fayetteville, standing in front of Air Force One on the runway.
“I wonder what it would have been if all of the nonsense wasn’t brought up,” he said, sounding rueful.
Unlike the closing days of the 2016 campaign, when Trump hewed to a populist script and balanced his grievances with firm economic promises, his lack of focus has dominated this year, an unusual strategy for a candidate facing daunting odds on the eve of a presidential election.
The president is not only trailing Biden in many national polls. He is also facing deficits in each of the battleground states where he campaigned Monday: North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. He won all four in 2016.
The gap is even narrowing in Texas, long a Republican stronghold, where polls give Trump only a narrow lead and a flood of early voting has broken records.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, appointed by President George W. Bush, dismissed a Republican challenge to drive-through voting in Harris County, the state’s largest, which surrounds Houston, clearing the way for 127,000 early votes to be counted.
The judge’s ruling follows two related decisions by the Texas Supreme Court rejecting Republican efforts to disallow the votes, and appears to clear the way for the drive-through votes to be counted Tuesday. The Republican plaintiffs plan to appeal.
Trump later blasted a Supreme Court decision from last week that allowed Pennsylvania to count properly postmarked mailed ballots that arrive up to three days after polls close. He complained about it en route to Kenosha after firing off a tweet so incendiary that Twitter slapped a warning label on it.
Calling the high court’s decision “very dangerous,” he tweeted that the counting of Pennsylvania’s ballots “will allow rampant and unchecked cheating and will undermine our entire systems of laws. It will also induce violence in the streets. Something must be done!”
The comments, the president’s latest to try to suppress mail-in voting in a state where he is trailing in polls, added fuel to a tense political environment. Earlier Monday, Trump publicly praised supporters who used a truck caravan to surround and harass a Biden campaign bus in Texas. The FBI said it was investigating that incident.
Biden’s visit to Cleveland marked a gamble by his campaign. Trump won Ohio by 8 percentage points in 2016, but the polls show the delegate-rich state is tied and Democratic strategists see an opening for Biden to potentially expand his electoral margin.
Like much of the country, Ohio has seen a surge of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations in recent weeks, and Biden blamed Trump for failing to contain the contagion — or even trying to.
“I’m never going to raise the white flag of surrender. We’re going to beat this virus. We’re going to get it under control, I promise you,” Biden bellowed in an airport hangar in Cleveland.
Biden pointed out his four grandchildren in the crowd — “they’re my good luck charms” — before lacing into Trump for suggesting that doctors were inflating COVID-19 deaths so they could make more money, calling Trump a “disgrace.”
Trump attacked several Democratic-leaning celebrities, including Lady Gaga, tweeting that the musician and actress is “a proud member of ‘Artists Against Fracking,’” the controversial oil extraction method used in western Pennsylvania.
“I can tell you stories about Lady Gaga. I know a lot of stories,” the president said cryptically in Avoca, Pa.
The flamboyant singer fired back from behind a white baby grand piano at Biden’s closing rally, held in a parking lot at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, as Biden’s supporters waved flags, honked horns and applauded from their cars.
“All the men with daughters and sisters and mothers ... now’s your chance to vote against Donald Trump, a man who believes his fame gives him the right to grab one of your daughters, or sisters, or mothers or wives by any part of their body,” she said.
Biden took the stage soon after and offered a note of optimism, predicting a “big win tomorrow.”
“I don’t care how hard Donald Trump tries, there is nothing that is going to stop the people of this nation from voting,” he said.
The rally was coordinated with one led by Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and featuring singer John Legend, across the state in Philadelphia. Crowds in the two cities cheered and honked horns as the events appeared in tandem on Jumbotrons.
Obama, speaking in Atlanta, appealed to people who did not plan to vote because they are disenchanted by the slow pace of change or uninspired by Democratic candidates.
“You get frustrated,” he said. “I get it, but you know what? Whenever I get in one of those moods, I just remind myself that when we work together, when we put in a little bit of effort, things may not get perfect, but they do get better.”
Bierman reported from Washington, Mason reported from Philadelphia and Halper reported from Pittsburgh. Staff writers Chris Megerian in Washington, Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta and Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston contributed to this report.
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