Trump to campaign in battleground Pennsylvania as voting enters final two weeks

by Reuters
Tuesday, 20 October 2020 14:30 GMT

(Adds Florida voting, Trump quote on debate)

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump heads to the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Tuesday with hopes of rekindling the 11th-hour surge of support that powered his surprise 2016 victory.

With more than 33 million early ballots already cast two weeks before voting ends on Election Day Nov. 3, time is running short in his contest against Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

National polls show former Vice President Biden holding a wide lead on Republican Trump, though the contest is closer in swing states that decide elections including Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Trump has gained some ground on Biden in Pennsylvania, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday, which showed the challenger leading by 49% to 45%, slightly narrower than a week earlier.

Trump was due to hold a rally in Erie, in the state's northwest corner, at 7 p.m. Eastern Time (2300 GMT). Biden has no events planned.

Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 people in the United States and thrown millions out of work, has taken a toll on his re-election prospects.

Despite rising cases of the highly contagious disease, which landed Trump in hospital for three nights, he has resumed a heavy schedule of campaign travel including rallies where his supporters pack together tightly, many not wearing masks.

Trump persists in calling for an end to social restrictions that medical experts say limit the spread of infection and for the country to reopen for business. On Monday he lashed out at top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, calling the highly respected figure a "disaster."

Trump's path to victory is narrowing in the state-by-state race that determines who will move into the White House on Jan. 20, 2021.

Reuters/Ipsos polling shows Trump trailing in Wisconsin and Michigan, the two other Rust Belt states that he narrowly carried four years ago. Trump also trails in Arizona and the two are effectively tied in Florida and North Carolina.

More than 33.3 million votes have been cast, according to the University of Florida's U.S. Elections Project, more than a fifth of the total vote in the last presidential contest four years ago.

Early returns show registered Democrats outpacing Republicans in most states that track party affiliation. Trump has repeatedly characterized absentee voting as unreliable, though experts say it is as secure as any other method.

His campaign and the Republican Party have sought, with mixed success, to limit voting by mail in states that expanded it in response to fears of spreading COVID-19 at crowded polling places.

In Pennsylvania, his campaign has failed to prevent officials from setting up ballot drop boxes, a popular option in many other states.

FLORIDA EARLY TURNOUT

More than 339,000 people voted in Florida on Monday during the first day of early in-person voting in the competitive state, according to partial data on Tuesday from the Florida Department of State.

The figures showed that 144,000 of the ballots were cast by registered Republicans, a nearly 4,000-ballot advantage over Democrats, though it was impossible to say which way they voted.

Overall, including mail-in votes, about 3 million people have cast ballots in the state, with Democrats enjoying a 478,000 ballot advantage based on the party affiliation of the people who cast the ballots. In the 2016 presidential election, Democrats enjoyed an advantage in early voting and mail-in ballots that was swept away on Election Day, and Trump won.

Early in-person voting begins in Wisconsin, Utah and Hawaii on Tuesday.

Trump and Biden will face off in a final televised debate on Thursday, their second such matchup after Trump backed out of last week's planned appearance over a disagreement about the virtual format following his COVID-19 infection.

Organizers said on Monday a candidate's microphone would be muted to ensure his rival had a chance to speak for two minutes at the outset of every 15-minute debate segment - an attempt to head off the interruptions that marred the first matchup.

Trump's campaign objected to the rule change but said he would participate.

On Tuesday, Trump repeated his complaint the debate will not focus on foreign policy, an area where his campaign believes he holds an advantage because of Biden's record in the Obama administration.

"We're talking about things that are not foreign policy. And frankly, it was a change that they made that was far bigger than the mute button," he told Fox News.

The Biden campaign says Trump wants to center the debate on foreign affairs to distract from discussing his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Scott Malone, Michael Perry and Howard Goller)

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