OCALA, Florida – US President Donald Trump hit the campaign trail in must-win Florida on Friday (Oct 23) after a spirited last debate against White House challenger Joe Biden, who sought to cement his lead with a vow to get every American a free Covid-19 vaccine if elected.
With 11 days to go and 50 million people having already cast early ballots, Biden has a firm lead in national polls, as well as in most of the battleground states that typically decide the winner in US presidential elections.
Trump, who won to the surprise of most in 2016, defeating frontrunner Hillary Clinton, is pulling out all the stops to try and repeat the upset.
He landed in Ocala, Florida, for a rally in the famous retirement community The Villages where he will try to make up lost ground among the elderly – an important electoral group because they tend to be active voters.
Next stop was Pensacola, Florida, and on Saturday the president will cast his own ballot in his legal home residency of West Palm Beach.
The rest of the weekend will see Trump, 74, maintaining that frenetic pace with rallies in North Carolina and Ohio on Saturday, then New Hampshire on Sunday, before a spate of more rallies next week.
Biden, as throughout the coronavirus-disrupted 2020 campaign, remained lower key. But even the 77-year-old Democrat is ramping up activity in the final stretch.
In his home state of Delaware, he gave a speech about economic recovery from the pandemic, vowing that he would ensure a safe coronavirus vaccine would be “free to everyone.” Trump has made the same pledge.
On Saturday, Biden will travel to Pennsylvania, which like Florida is in the top tier of battleground states deciding national elections.
Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice president, will also lend his Democratic star power to the campaign on Saturday with a rally in Miami.
Pivot too late?
Trump’s campaign has been turned upside down by the coronavirus crisis, which a majority of voters say he has failed to handle well.
In addition to the national disaster of more than 220,000 coronavirus deaths and economic pain from lockdowns, Trump’s reelection bid has been hampered throughout by his own erratic and often bad-tempered behaviour.
At Thursday’s final televised debate in Nashville, the president pivoted to the more cheerful, even-keeled leader that aides have long been hoping Americans will see.
Perhaps most startling was the relative civility of the debate compared to the disastrous first showdown last month when Trump continuously shouted Biden down.
This time, Trump called his Democratic opponent “Joe” and even lauded the moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News, who had a mute button to keep order.
“I thought I did great,” Trump said Friday. “It’s two different styles. I can do different styles.” But whether this shift from the usually bruising diet of insults, grievances and conspiracy theories, will be enough at this stage – or whether it will even last the weekend – is an open question.
Despite the sunnier image, Trump’s team had gone into Thursday’s debate hoping to damage Biden with a murky and dubiously sourced allegation that he profited from foreign business deals conducted by his son while he was serving in the White House.
The attack largely fizzled, however, when Biden not only parried the accusations but noted that serious questions were mounting around Trump himself, including his holding of a bank account in China and failing to publish his US tax returns.