Biden, Trump duel for Florida
Donald Trump and Joe Biden dueled Thursday over the crucial state of Florida, painting radically different visions of the United States as big new GDP figures showed an improving economy even as Covid-19 infections reached record highs.
With Trump touting an early end to the health crisis, while warning of rampaging "socialists," and Biden slamming the US president as irresponsible and vowing to heal America's "soul," voters face a dramatic choice in five days.
"They will allow you nothing," the Republican said.
"We're never going to lock down again.... We're open for business," he said, telling supporters that his own recent bout with Covid-19 proved that it can be beaten.
"You know, the bottom line is you get better," he said.
But the pandemic, which has already taken 228,000 American lives, has shown its resilience and is undergoing a long-predicted second wave.
On Thursday more than 91,000 new US infections were recorded, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, the highest 24-hour total since the pandemic began.
Despite the grim milestone, Trump -- trailing in the polls and with a stunning 81 million Americans already casting their ballots early -- is counting on economic recovery and fear-mongering about Democrats turning the nation into a leftist failed state to outweigh Biden's health message for remaining voters.
He got good news on that score Thursday with new figures showing an annual growth rate of 33.1 percent in the third quarter -- a jaw-dropping statistic that reflects the economy's rebound from such a low base.
In a bid to soften the president's abrasive image -- beloved by his base but a turn-off to swing voters -- he was introduced at the rally by First Lady Melania Trump, who said her husband shows Americans that "we are a country of hope, not a country of fear or weakness."
- 'Heart and soul' -
"I'm not going to shut down the economy, I'm not going to shut down the country. I'm going to shut down the virus," he said in Tampa, just hours after Trump's appearance where attendees ignored social distancing guidelines and many did not wear masks.
"He's spreading more than just coronavirus; he's spreading division and discord. We need a president who's going to bring us together, not pull us apart," he said.
"The heart and soul of this country is at stake."
- Biden ahead -
Both candidates will be barnstorming swing states in the final sprint to Tuesday.
Vice President Mike Pence and Biden's running mate Kamala Harris are also criss-crossing the nation, to battlegrounds like Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan and all-important Pennsylvania.
Mother nature intruded on Biden's Tampa rally too, as a heavy downpour forced him to cut his remarks short.
In Florida, the Marist poll showed Biden had a commanding lead among Black voters (84-14), women (57-41) and independents (55-41) and was also favored by seniors (53-46), who make up a large proportion of the voters in the Sunshine State.
Mary Ann Gouveia, a 55-year-old neonatal nurse practitioner, said she favors Biden because she wants "commonsense" gun legislation.
But she looks back at 2016, when Clinton "was going to win and she didn't," and gets nervous.
"I'm not confident whatsoever," despite canvassing, phone-banking and texting for Biden, she told AFP at his rally.
"I've been doing that for several months now, and I'm not stopping until the day of the election."