Biden, Trump campaigns enter final sprint: US elections news

With just two full days of campaigning left, the candidates are doubling down in key battleground states.

Biden is concentrating on Pennsylvania, as Trump holds ten rallies in seven states in final two days of campaign [Angela Weiss and Win McNamee/ AFP]
  • Democratic candidate Joe Biden spent Sunday in Pennsylvania, a battleground state that has become increasingly significant to both candidates.
  • Donald Trump held rallies in five states, in last-minute, breakneck appeals to energise voters – a strategy that helped him ride to victory in 2016.
  • The Republican president praised a caravan of supporters that harassed a Biden campaign bus, leading to the cancellation of an event in Texas.
  • With just two days until election day, more than 92 million US citizens have already cast their votes, far outpacing early voting in any past elections and accounting for 67 percent of all votes counted in 2016.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the United States elections. This is Joseph Stepansky.

Biden works to push Black turnout in campaign’s final days

Biden is spending the final days of the presidential campaign appealing to Black supporters to vote in-person during a pandemic that has disproportionately affected their communities, betting that a strong turnout will boost his chances in states that could decide the election.

Biden was in Philadelphia on Sunday, the largest city in what is emerging as the most hotly contested battleground in the closing 48 hours of the campaign. He participated in a “souls to the polls” event that is part of a nationwide effort to organise Black churchgoers to vote.

“Every single day we’re seeing race-based disparities in every aspect of this virus,” Biden said at the drive-in event, shouting to be heard over the blaring car horns. He declared that Trump’s handling of COVID-19 was “almost criminal” and that the pandemic was a “mass casualty event in the Black community.”

His running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, was in Georgia, a longtime Republican stronghold that Democrats believe could flip if Black voters show up in force. The first Black woman on a major party’s presidential ticket, she encouraged a racially diverse crowd in a rapidly growing Atlanta suburb to “honor the ancestors” by voting, invoking the memory of the late civil rights legend, longtime Representative John Lewis.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a “Souls to the Polls” drive-in rally at Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia [Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press]

US election: Donald Trump’s closest 2016 victories

Trump made history in 2016 by becoming the fifth United States presidential candidate to win the Electoral College but lose the overall popular vote. It worked out that way because opponent Hillary Clinton had some extremely large victories in heavily-populated states like California and New York, and Trump wound up winning four states with margins of victory of 1.2 percentage points or less.

As Election Day 2020 approaches, many of these states continue to be battlegrounds between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

Read more about Trump’s narrowest victories in 2016 here.

Trump plans to declare victory early if it appears he’s ‘ahead’: Report

Trump has told people close to him that he will declare victory on Tuesday night if he appears “ahead” in the results, even if official results are not yet in, Axios reported on Saturday, citing three sources familiar with the president’s comments.

Trump has talked about the scenarios in some detail over the last few weeks and has described walking up to podium and declaring victory on election night, according to the report.

With several states not allowed to begin counting ballots until election day, and some key states accepting ballots that arrive after November 3, if they are post marked by that date, final election results could take several days.

The Trump campaign has already begun casting doubt on ballots that arrive beyond election day, even if they are permitted under state laws. Trump’s adviser, Jason Miller, on Sunday baselessly suggested that if the results appear to change after election day, it is evidence of Democrats trying to “steal” the election. Any changes would in actuality be the result a more full accounting of votes cast.

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Dubuque Regional Airport in Iowa [Evan Vucci/The Associated Press]

Texas high court denies Republican effort to reject Houston votes

The Texas Supreme Court has denied a Republican-led petition to toss nearly 127,000 ballots cast at drive-thru voting places in the Houston area.

The state’s all-Republican high court rejected the request from Republican activists and candidates without explaining its decision. The effort to have the Harris County ballots thrown out is still set to be taken up during an emergency hearing in federal court on Monday.

“We’re pleased that the Texas Supreme Court recognized that their arguments that drive-thru voting is illegal are flat-out wrong,” said Susan Hays, an attorney for the Harris County Clerk’s Office. “Lawsuits that are filed in the middle of an election to disrupt the election should be promptly denied.”

Conservative Texas activists have railed against expanded voting access in Harris County, where a record 1.4 million early votes have already been cast. The county is the nation’s third largest and a crucial battleground in Texas, where Trump and Republicans are bracing for the closest election in decades on Tuesday.

US District Judge Andrew Hanen is expected to rule on the same issue on Monday. Hanen’s decision to hear arguments on the brink of Election Day drew attention from voting rights activists. The Texas Supreme Court also rejected a nearly identical challenge last month.

Organisers plan new rally after North Carolina voter event ends with pepper spray

Reverend Greg Drumwright, the organiser of a get-out-the-vote rally in North Carolina that ended with police pepper-spraying and arresting participants, is planning another march on Election Day, he said at a news conference on Sunday.

Drumwright also condemned the police, saying they cracked down on what had been a peaceful event meant to encourage people to vote: “We were beaten, but we’re not going to be broken”.

Police, for their part, said participants in Saturday’s rally were arrested and pepper-sprayed because they were blocking the roadway without authorisation. Graham Police said Saturday they issued several warnings to the crowd at Alamance County’s courthouse to move from the roadway before releasing pepper spray and later arresting eight people. They contended they had given participants enough time to disperse before releasing the spray toward the ground and not “directly” toward any participant.

The governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, later called the incident “unacceptable”, adding “peaceful demonstrators should be able to have their voices heard and voter intimidation in any form cannot be tolerated”.

Harris campaigns in Georgia

Democratic vice presidential candidate Harris was campaigning in Georgia on Sunday, a long-time Republican bastion that Democrats hope to take on November 3.

“So I’m back in Georgia. We have two days to go. And I came back to Georgia because I wanted to just remind everybody that you all are going to decide who is going to be the next president of the United States,” Harris said at an event in suburban Gwinnett County, which flipped Democratic in 2016.

It is the second trip to the state for Harris in eight days. Biden visited Georgia on Tuesday.

While Trump won the state by about five percentage points in 2016, polls continue to show a dead heat in the current contest.

Democratic nominee for Vice President Senator Kamala Harris speaks during a campaign rally in Duluth, Georgia [File: John Bazemore/The Associated Press]

Replica noose at Missouri polling station covered up: Report

A replica noose, part of a historical display at a building used as a polling site in Missouri, has been covered up after complaints, according to the Kansas City Star.

Missouri Democrats condemned the noose at the Stone County, Missouri polling station, calling it “clear intimidation” of Black voters, according to the newspaper. Meanwhile, a county official told the publication the noose was part a historical exhibit that had been in place for years and marks the last legal hanging in the state.

It has been covered up as of Friday, the official said.

Why women decide elections

When some women gained the right to vote in the United States 100 years ago, men feared a “petticoat hierarchy” – where if women banded together to form their own parties, they could disrupt the country’s political system, Kathryn DePalo-Gould, a political science professor at Florida International University told Al Jazeera.

But that simply did not happen. The existing political parties quickly adapted to include women in their organisational structures. Many women cast their ballots for the same candidates as the men in their lives. It would be decades before women of colour – including Black, Indigenous, Asian American, and Latina women – were able to vote. And for women who could in 1920, many did not vote at all.

It was not until 1980 that a gender gap – the difference between the proportions of women and men who support a particular candidate – emerged in a presidential election. It was also the first year that women voted at higher rates than men. That trend has continued in every presidential election since then, and it is what makes women a powerful force at the ballot box today.

“Women voters decide elections,” DePalo-Gould said.

Read more here.

Women have voted at higher rates than men since 1980 [File: Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press]

Trump to hold election night celebration in White House: Report

Trump is set to hold an election night celebration in the East Room of the White House, with aides discussing inviting as many as 400 guests, two officials familiar with the plans told the New York Times.

The event was moved from the Trump Hotel in Washington, DC, in part, because if violated coronavirus rules in the federal district that prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people.

The reported indoor gathering raises questions over safety, with a previous White House reception, in which Trump announced his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, believed to be a super spreader event that led to many officials and Senators contracting the virus.

President Donald Trump stands with Judge Amy Coney Barrett at a White House event believed to have sparked a coronavirus outbreak in the White House [File: Alex Brandon/The Associated Press]

Trump laments losing friends after becoming president

Trump, holding his first of five events on Sunday, a rally in Michigan, lamented losing friends who are “intimidated by the office”.

While delivering a stump speech in Washington Township, Trump digressed into discussing a friend who treated him differently after he became president.

“It’s like you lose all your friends because they’re intimidated by the office, does that make sense?” he said.

“You don’t have any friends,” he said, before adding, “I have my friends in Michigan”.

Donald Trump reacts to cold weather and wind during a campaign rally at Michigan Sports Stars Park in Washington Township, Michigan [Carlos Barria/Reuters]


Federal judge to consider throwing out 100,000 votes in Texas

A federal judge in Texas will hold a hearing on Monday on whether Houston officials illegally allowed drive-through voting and must toss more than 100,000 votes in the Democratic-leaning area.

US District Judge Andrew Hanen will consider whether votes already cast at drive-through voting sites in the Houston area should be rejected.

A lawsuit was brought on Wednesday by plaintiffs including Steve Hotze, a conservative activist, and state Representative Steve Toth. They accused Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, a Democrat, of exceeding his constitutional authority by allowing drive-through voting as an alternative to walk-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

Harris County, home to about 4.7 million people, is the third most populous county in the United States. It currently has 10 drive-through polling sites, which are available to all voters.

People wait in line to cast their ballots for the upcoming presidential election as early voting begins in Houston, Texas [File: Go Nakamura/Reuters]

Trump adviser baselessly claims Democrats will try to ‘steal’ election

Senior Trump advisor Jason Miller has said that Democrats will try to “steal” back the election if Trump appears to be leading on election night, casting unfounded doubt on an unprecedented election that may take days for final results to come in.

During an interview on ABC News, Miller said: “You speak with many smart Democrats, they believe President Trump will be ahead on election night, probably getting 280 [electoral votes], somewhere in that range. And then they’re going to try to steal it back after the election.”

Miller is referring to a possible scenario in which Trump appears to be ahead in some states on election night, but loses that lead as states continue counting all ballots cast, including mail ballots, in the following days. Some key states, in particular North Carolina and Pennsylvania, allow mail votes to be counted if they are post-marked by election day. Democrats are expected to vote more by mail than Republicans, who have baselessly claimed voting by mail is ripe for fraud.

Public safety experts have warned against campaigns making unsubstantiated claims about election results during what may be a period of uncertainty following election day, saying it could lead to unrest.

Pennsylvania central to campaigns in final days

Pennsylvania, one of three northern rust-belt battleground states considered most competitive, has become central to both campaign’s schedules in the final days of the race.

Trump held four rallies in the state on Monday, while Biden is holding two events on Sunday. On Monday, both candidates will be joined by their running mates and various surrogates in blanketing the state with events on the final full day of the campaign.

Trump won the state, a former Democratic bastion, by 0.7 percent in 2016 and its 20 electoral votes may prove essential to his re-election hopes this time around. In recent weeks, the state had appeared more competitive than nearby Michigan and Wisconsin, in which Biden has maintained a steady lead. All three states were fundamental to Trump’s 2016 victory. Combined, he won by a margin of just 77,000 voters in the three states.

A batch of new polls show Biden widening the gap in Pennsylvania, up seven points in a Washington Post-ABC poll, six points in a New York Times-Siena poll and five points in a Muhlenberg College poll.

Top health expert Fauci contradicts Trump claims US is ’rounding the corner’ on pandemic

Dr Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has said the US could not “possibly be positioned more poorly” when it comes to dealing withe pandemic during the winter months.

Fauci, in an interview with the Washington Post, warned: “We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,” while calling for an “abrupt change” in public health practices and behaviours as the colder months approach and people are more likely to congregate indoors.

The statements stand in stark contrast Trump’s closing campaign arguments, as he has sought to portray the US as “rounding the corner” on the pandemic while repeatedly suggesting that the threat is being exaggerated by Democrats, the media and even health professionals.

Trump has continued to hold in-person rallies despite the pandemic, a stark contrast to Biden, who has only held socially-distanced events. A recent Stanford University study found that 30,000 infections and 700 deaths were likely linked to 18 Trump rallies.

A Trump spokesperson told the newspaper Fauci’s statements were “unacceptable and breaking with all norms…to choose three days before an election to play politics”.


Trump tweets support for caravan that harassed Biden campaign bus

Trump has tweeted support for a caravan of his supporters who harassed a Biden campaign bus on its way to an event in Austin, Texas.

Witnesses and those on the bus said the caravan of pick-up trucks, many bearing Trump flags, had attempted to slow the bus on the highway and possibly force it off the road.

The Biden campaign later said an event, which was not set to feature Biden, his vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, or either of their spouses, was cancelled out of safety concerns.

The FBI is looking into the incident, according to the Texas Tribune.

On Saturday night, Trump tweeted a video of the bus surrounded by the caravan. “I love Texas,” he wrote.

Ten rallies in two days for Trump

Trump will blitz several battleground states in the final two days of the race, holding a whopping 10 rallies that he hopes will capture the enthusiasm that led him to victory in 2016.

On Sunday, Trump will hold rallies in Michigan, Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

On Monday, Trump has scheduled events in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and two in Michigan. He will close out the two-day swing with a late-night rally on Monday in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the same location where he finished his campaign in 2016

In his improbable victory four years ago, Trump took Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, three northern “Rust Belt” states that for decades had gone to Democrats. Currently, opinion polls show Biden leading in all of those states, with Pennsylvania considered the most competitive for Trump.

Meanwhile, the polls continue to show the two candidates neck and neck in Florida – a state considered essential for a Trump victory.

Read all the updates from yesterday (October 31) here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies