Donald Trump has joined more than 56 million people across the United States to cast their ballots early, as the US president voted on Saturday morning in Florida before beginning a day of rallies in key battleground states.
The president’s campaign blitz 10 days before November 3, reminiscent of his state-hopping in the final stretch of the 2016 election, comes just a day after the United States recorded a new single-day record of COVID-19 infections.
The president wore a mask when he voted, but took it off when speaking to reporters. Several hundred supporters gathered with flags and signs outside the library where he voted, chanting: “Four more years.”
“It was a very secure vote, much more secure than when you send in a ballot,” Trump told reporters after voting in West Palm Beach, repeating unfounded allegations that mail-in voting is more susceptible to fraud.
“I voted for a guy named Trump,” he added.
Lagging in national polls and with what analysts consider a narrow path to victory in the Electoral College, Trump has been trying to recreate the enthusiasm he harnessed in the final days of the 2016 campaign.
On Saturday, he had rallies scheduled in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, all states considered important for victory, but where COVID-19 cases have spiked and in-person rallies may be a political liability.
Speaking at the first event, in Lumberton, North Carolina, Trump portrayed the pandemic as being blown out of proportion by Democrats and the media, suggesting that “on November 4th, you won’t hear about it anymore”.
North Carolina recorded 2,716 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the highest daily total since the pandemic began.
The president referred to widespread testing as both “good” and “very foolish” because it increases the official case count in the country.
He also said the US might already have a vaccine “if it weren’t for politics”, renewing unfounded claims that political actors inside government agencies have slowed vaccine development to hurt his chances of re-election.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, who has made his cautious approach to campaigning during the pandemic central to his messaging, had two events scheduled on Saturday – both socially distanced “drive-in rallies” in Pennsylvania.
“I wish I could go to car-to-car meet you all. I don’t like the idea of all this distance, but it’s necessary,” Biden told supporters in Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, at the day’s first event.
“I appreciate you being safe. What we don’t want to do is become super spreaders.”
Biden then decried the recent spike in infections, deriding Trump’s cavalier approach and a claim made by the president during Thursday’s debate that the US is “rounding the corner” on COVID-19. The country has reported over 224,000 deaths since the pandemic began.
The former US vice president also highlighted Trump’s admissions, detailed in a report in September, that he understood the severity of the pandemic in its earliest days despite downplaying that threat to the public.
Biden held a second event Saturday in Luzerne County, near his birthplace of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and an area once considered a Democratic stronghold that Trump won in 2016.
Polls show Biden – who cast his ballot weeks ago in Delaware – narrowly leading Trump in the state, which is considered crucial to both candidates.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released earlier this week showed Biden with a 4-percentage-point advantage on Trump in the state, down from seven points the week before.
As of Saturday, the number of people who had cast their ballots early – either by mail or in-person – was more than 40 percent of all the votes cast in 2016.
The final days of the campaign have also seen former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, return to the campaign trail, making his first in-person appearance in Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
On Saturday, Obama, who maintains widespread support and is widely considered one of the Democratic party’s strongest assets, stumped for Biden in Florida, a state that is essential to Trump’s chances of victory.
Obama hit out at the Republican president during a drive-in rally of about 200 cars, saying Trump “hasn’t shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody except himself and his friends or treating the presidency like a reality show to give himself more attention”.
“The rest of us have to live with the consequences of what he’s done. At least 220,000 Americans are dead,” Obama said.