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In battleground Florida, Trump and Biden host study-in-contrast rallies

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TAMPA: President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden showcased their contrasting approaches to the resurgent coronavirus pandemic as they rallied supporters on Thursday
in the
battleground state of
Florida with the clock winding down to Election Day.

Opinion polls show Biden with a significant edge nationally, but with a tighter lead
in the
battleground states that play a decisive role
in the final result.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed Trump had essentially moved into a tie with Biden
in
Florida, with 49% saying they would vote for Biden and 47% for the president.

With its 29 electoral votes, the state is a major prize
in Tuesday’s election. Trump’s victory
in
Florida
in 2016 was vital to his surprise election win.

Thousands of people, many of them without masks, crowded together at an outdoor event
in Tampa on Thursday to hear Trump mock his opponent, the former vice president.

“Could you imagine losing to this guy? Could you imagine?” Trump said. The president also downplayed the pandemic, as he has done throughout the year, telling people that if they contracted the virus, they would “get better,” just as he did after his own diagnosis.

Hours later, Biden arrived
in the same city to hold a “drive-
in” rally, where attendees remained
in or near their cars to avoid the possible spread of the virus, his second such event of the day
in
Florida. Supporters at the event wore masks, as required by Biden’s campaign, although they did not always maintain social distancing.

Biden criticized Trump for holding what he termed a “super-spreader event” and attacked the president’s repeated assertion that the country had moved past the worst days of the pandemic, despite rising cases nationwide.

“Donald Trump has waved the white flag, abandoned our families and surrendered to this virus,” Biden said. “But the American people never give up; we never give
in.”

SHADOW OF THE PANDEMIC

The pandemic that has upended life across the United States, killed more than 227,000 people and caused millions of job losses, is roaring back.

Trump has repeatedly dismissed the threat, even as leaders
in Europe scramble to contain a second wave and public health experts predict a grim winter
in the United States.

Officials
in Gastonia, North Carolina, warned people who attended an Oct. 21 Trump rally there that two people who took part tested positive for COVID-19.

Trump’s own White House coronavirus task force is warning of a persistent and broad spread of COVID-19
in the western half of the United States, including
in a number of states that will play an important role
in the election.

The Republican president hailed figures released on Thursday that showed the U.S. economy grew at an unrivaled annualized pace of 33%
in the third quarter because of a huge federal pandemic relief program.

“So glad this great GDP number came out before November 3rd,” Trump wrote
in a tweet. It is doubtful, however, whether economic data this close to Election Day can influence the outcome. Biden can point out that U.S. output remains below its level
in the fourth quarter of 2019, before the pandemic hit.

Following his own bout with COVID-19, the president has had a hectic campaign schedule, holding as many as three rallies a day
in different states, while Biden has taken a more measured tack, spending two days this week close to his home base of Delaware.

A planned Trump rally
in Fayetteville, North Carolina, for Thursday night was postponed because of a wind advisory stemming from Hurricane Zeta, Trump’s campaign said, truncating his visit to the state. While there, the president awarded a citation to the Army special operations forces that conducted the raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a year ago, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told reporters.

Biden’s Tampa speech was cut short by a sudden downpour. He is expected to travel to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa on Friday.

The president plans to return to the Midwest on Friday, campaigning
in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
In all, he plans to visit 10 states
in the last days of the campaign and will host 11 rallies
in the final 48 hours, a campaign official said.

EARLY VOTING DELUGE

More than 80 million Americans have already cast ballots
in the presidential election, according to a tally on Thursday from the U.S. Elections Project at the University of
Florida, setting the stage for the highest participation rate
in over a century.

That surge includes more than 51 million ballots cast by mail, a long-standing practice of American elections that is surging
in popularity because of the pandemic. State officials and experts have warned that it may take days or even weeks to tally them as some states have rules that forbid counting early votes before Election Day.

On Thursday, a federal appeals court ruled that Minnesota’s plan to accept ballots arriving up to a week after Election Day as long as they were postmarked by Nov. 3 was illegal.

Florida is home to large Latino populations, with Cuban Americans
in the south of
Florida traditionally tending to favor Republicans, while newer communities of Puerto Ricans
in central
Florida lean toward the Democrats.

Biden’s campaign tried on Thursday to dampen concerns among Democrats that Biden is not reaching Latino voters nationally as well as former President Barack Obama used to.

“We are 100% on track to match or exceed the Obama Latino vote numbers
in 2012,” Matt Barreto, co-founder of the polling and research firm Latino Decisions, said on a media conference call organized by the Biden campaign.

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