Trump ramps up presidential campaign rallies
With exactly two weeks until the election, President Donald Trump was continuing his campaign rally marathon Tuesday with a trip to swing state Pennsylvania, the day after early voting began in another key state, Florida.
Trump and his wife Melania will head to Erie, Pennsylvania, where he will host another of his massive rallies. US media reported that the First Lady will be by her husband's side at the rally, her first such appearance in more than a year.
Record numbers of Americans have already cast ballots in person or by mail -- 30 million, according to one tracker -- ahead of the November 3 election, as Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden race from one swing state to another to marshal support.
Nationwide, Biden leads Trump by 8.9 percentage points, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls, and the Democrat has more modest leads in several battleground states.
With Biden dispatching his running mate Kamala Harris to Florida to rally voters there, Trump was on a western swing Monday in battleground Arizona, where he won in 2016 but now narrowly trails his rival in statewide polling.
Americans are "pandemic-ed out," he boomed to masses of supporters, many without masks and not practicing social distancing, gathered at the outdoor rally.
The election is rapidly boiling down to whether voters see Trump as best placed to revive the battered economy, or they believe the president has exacerbated the pandemic and want Biden to fulfill his pledge to unify a divided country.
The battle has played out in eight or nine swing states for months, but perhaps nowhere more intensely than Florida, the largest up-for-grabs prize of them all, delivering 29 of the state-by-state Electoral College votes that decide who wins the presidency.
Early voting began Monday in Florida, and voters in the southern part of the state converged on polling stations, wearing masks and standing in line at a social distance.
At a Miami Beach polling station, Jackeline Maurice, a writer in her 40s, was excitedly snapping selfies with an "I voted" sticker on after casting her ballot for Biden.
"I've been waiting four years to vote," she said.
- Virus 'inconvenience' -
In nearby Hialeah, some 200 people, mostly Cuban Americans, were in line to vote at a library, including Ulysses Liriano.
The 51-year-old said he was voting for the president because "Trump has made lots of changes for us in our country," notably with the economy.
"It was an inconvenience what happened now with the corona, and they want to use that against him," he said.
The Florida race is tightening down to a knife edge; statewide polls show Biden ahead by an average of 1.4 percentage points -- compared with 4.5 points less than two weeks ago.
The increasingly diverse state is a bellwether, having voted for the candidate who ultimately became president in 18 of the past 20 elections -- including Republican Trump in 2016.
Biden, fresh off two events in North Carolina -- another state Democrats want to flip -- dispatched Harris to Florida for a drive-in rally in Orlando and a voter mobilization event in Jacksonville.
The events are key for Democratic efforts in larger, more urban areas to offset the advantages Trump has in smaller counties across Florida.
Harris told Orlando voters that the nation is grappling with multiple crises linked to the pandemic, what she called "the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of America."
Biden, who faces off with Trump Thursday in their final debate, echoed the need for change.
"Together, we can put an end to the last four years of darkness, division, and chaos," he tweeted. "We can unite, mend our wounds, and begin to heal."
The presidential debate commission announced Monday that the candidates' microphones will be muted while their opponent is speaking for his allotted two minutes per question, and then unmuted for open discussion.
- 'Idiots' -
New Trump attacks on his own administration emerged Monday, when he slammed top government scientist Anthony Fauci and other experts for focusing too much on the pandemic.
"People are saying, 'Whatever -- just leave us alone.' They're tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots," the president reportedly said on a call with campaign staffers.
He has also ramped up his Biden attacks, again raising a disputed and unsubstantiated allegation that messages on a laptop computer belonging to Biden's son Hunter implicated the former vice president in corrupt links to Ukraine, calling it a "proven fact."
Biden's team rejects the allegations as a "smear campaign" and an attempt to distract from Trump's handling of the pandemic which has killed 220,000 Americans, and is now spreading in many states at rates unseen in months.