TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Pressing against stiff headwinds from the pandemic, President Donald Trump steered toward what he hoped was safer political ground with the U.S. economy Thursday, as Democratic rival Joe Biden kept up his assault on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.
Campaigning hours apart in Florida, a state all but essential to the Republican’s pathway to another term, both candidates urged supporters to get to polling places in person, even as a tropical storm interrupted early voting in the Southeast.
The shift to focusing on in-person voting next Tuesday — or sooner, where possible — comes as more than 80 million Americans have already cast their ballots, absentee or by mail. While the Election Day vote traditionally favors Republicans and early votes tend toward Democrats, the pandemic, which has killed more than 227,000 people in the United States, has injected new uncertainty.
“You hold the power. If Florida goes blue, it’s over,” Biden told supporters Thursday.
Trump on Thursday was celebrating a new federal estimate that the economy grew at a stunning 33.1% annual rate in the July-September quarter — by far the largest quarterly gain on record — making up ground from its epic plunge in the spring, when the eruption of the coronavirus closed businesses and threw tens of millions out of work.
“So glad this great GDP number came out before November 3rd,” Trump tweeted, predicting a dire reversal if Biden is elected.
But economists warned that the economy is already weakening again and facing renewed threats as confirmed viral cases surge, hiring has slowed and federal stimulus help has mostly run out.
Biden said, “The recovery is slowing if not stalling, and the recovery that is happening is helping those at the top but leaving tens of millions of working families and small businesses behind."
The Democrat is framing his closing arguments to voters on what he describes as responsible management of the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump, instead, is arguing that Biden would undo the economic gains of his administration with stricter, virus-targeting public health controls — though those are largely what scientists are calling for.
"The people are tired. They can’t do it anymore," Trump said of lockdowns.
Trump and Biden both visited the western end of the Florida's Interstate 4 corridor, an area known for rapid residential growth, sprawling suburbs and its status as an ever-changing, hard-fought battleground during presidential elections.
The president had been scheduled to hit another sunbelt battleground state, North Carolina, on Thursday evening but canceled his event in Fayetteville as Tropical Storm Zeta brought wind gusts reaching 50 mph to the area.
Biden was forced to wrap his speech up early at a drive-in rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds In Tampa after a brief shower turned into a torrential downpour.