FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Backed into a corner and facing financial strains, President Donald Trump went after his opponent’s family and defended his own struggle to contain the pandemic on Friday as he fought to energize his sagging reelection bid in the nation’s Sunbelt. With Election Day looming, Democrat Joe Biden pushed to keep voters focused on health care in the Midwest.
Trump was campaigning in Florida and Georgia, neighboring states he carried four years ago and must win again to extend his presidency. His decision to devote Friday evening’s prime-time slot to Georgia in particular highlighted the serious nature of his challenge in the 2020 contest’s closing days: Far from his original plan to expand into Democratic-leaning states, he is laboring to stave off a defeat of major proportions.
No Republican presidential candidate has lost Georgia since George H.W. Bush in 1992. And earlier this week, Trump had to court voters in Iowa, a state he carried by almost 10 points four years ago.
In Florida on Friday, the president derided the Bidens as “an organized crime family,” renewing his daily claims about the candidate’s son, Hunter, and his business dealings in Ukraine and China.
More to the point for Trump’s Florida audience, he spoke directly to seniors who have increasingly soured on his handling of the pandemic.
“I am moving heaven and earth to safeguard our seniors from the China virus,” Trump said, using his usual blame-shifting term to describe the coronavirus. He also offered an optimistic assessment of the pandemic, even as a surge of new infections spread across America.
“We are prevailing,” the president said, promising to deliver the first doses of a vaccine to seniors when it’s ready.
Despite the tough talk, Trump’s actions on the ground in Florida underscored the conflicting messages his administration has sent throughout the pandemic. All of the president’s security personnel and support staff were wearing face masks when Air Force One touched down, but Trump and Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis were bare faced.
Crowds gathered at the president’s subsequent events, many without masks as well.
It was just the opposite as Biden opened his Michigan swing at a suburban Detroit community center. In keeping with his usual protocols, Biden and all of the participants wore masks throughout the event, except when they were speaking, and a small crowd of dozens of reporters and supporters watched from folding chairs separated by circles to ensure social distancing.
“He’s living in a dream world,” Biden said of Trump’s rosy predictions of the pandemic. The former vice president then turned to the Trump administration’s court fight to overturn the “Obamacare” health coverage law — including its protection for people with pre-existing conditions — without having a replacement plan.
“Mishandling the pandemic isn’t enough for Trump,” Biden charged. “On top of that he’s still trying to take away your health care.”
Meanwhile, the president’s campaign released new numbers suggesting he’s likely the first incumbent president to face a financial disadvantage in the modern era.
Trump’s campaign, along with the Republican National Committee and associated groups, raised $247.8 million in September, well short of the $383 million raised by Biden and the Democratic National Committee. To open October, the Trump effort officially had $251.4 million in the bank, according to a campaign spokesman, compared to $432 million for Biden.
The president was seeking momentum on the campaign trail a day after he and Biden squared off in dueling televised town halls that showcased striking differences in temperament, views on racial justice and approaches to the pandemic.