WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is being forced to play Electoral College defense with a trip to Iowa, a state he won handily in 2016 but where Democrat Joe Biden is making a late push before the Nov. 3 vote.
Trump’s heavy travel this week, including a rally Wednesday in Des Moines, reflects his uphill climb three weeks before the election. He has already visited Pennsylvania and Florida, will head to another state, North Carolina, he can’t win without and plans stops in Iowa and Georgia, which he once thought were in his grasp but where recent polling shows Biden improving.
The candidates will have dueling town halls Thursday night on network television — Trump’s in Miami and sponsored by NBC News, Biden’s in Philadelphia and on ABC. Debate organizers last week changed their original plan for a town hall debate that night to a virtual event after Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis, but the president backed out. Biden quickly signed on to his own town hall; Trump’s campaign on Wednesday announced its competing event.
Both candidates tailored their campaigning Tuesday to best motivate voters who could cast potentially decisive ballots.
Biden did not have any public campaign events scheduled Wednesday, an unusual move just 20 days before the election, after visiting Florida on Tuesday to court older voters. He was looking to deliver a knockout blow in a state Trump needs to win while trying to woo a group whose support for the Republican president has slipped.
Trump was in Pennsylvania, arguably the most important state on the electoral map, unleashing fierce attacks on Biden’s fitness for office in his opponent’s backyard.
“He’s shot, folks. I hate to tell you, he’s shot,” Trump told a big rally crowd in Johnstown, saying there was extra pressure on him to win because Biden was the worst presidential candidate of all time. “Can you imagine if you lose to a guy like this? It’s unbelievable.”
In his second rally since contracting the novel coronavirus, Trump spoke for more than an hour to thousands packed in tightly and mostly maskless. Like the night before in Florida, Trump seemed healthy, and his rhetoric on the pandemic — including the dubious claim that it was mostly a thing of the past — changed little despite his own illness, except for his threat to kiss audience members to prove his immunity.
Trump made a local pitch, hammering home the false claim that a Biden administration would limit fracking in areas where the economy is heavily dependent on energy. Biden’s proposal would only bar new leases on federal land, a fraction of U.S. fracking operations. Touting his elimination of a federal rule that would have brought more low-income housing to the suburbs, Trump zeroed in on groups whose support he has struggled to retain, including female voters turned off by his rhetoric.
“So I ask you to do me a favor. Suburban women: Will you please like me? Please. Please. I saved your damn neighborhood, OK?” Trump said. “The other thing: I don’t have that much time to be that nice. You know, I can do it, but I gotta go quickly.”
Biden spent the day in Florida, his third visit to the state in a month, looking to expand his inroads with older voters. To Trump, “you’re expendable, you’re forgettable, you’re virtually nobody,” Biden said at a senior center in Pembroke Pines, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Fort Lauderdale.
The “only senior Donald Trump seems to care about” is himself, Biden added.
Biden also held a drive-in rally designed to promote voter mobilization in the heavily African American community of Miramar. His swing coincided with a $500,000 donation from billionaire former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg to increase Democratic turnout in Miami-Dade County.
Back in Washington, Tuesday marked a second day of Senate hearings to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Trump and top Republicans see a swift confirmation as a chance to energize conservatives. Trump mentioned those proceedings as he left the White House, saying, “Amy was doing incredibly well.”
Biden’s campaign believes it can win the White House without Florida’s 29 electoral votes, but it wants to lock up the state to pad a margin of victory over Trump, who has questioned the legitimacy of an election where many people will cast mail-in ballots during the pandemic. Biden has vowed to win Pennsylvania, but if he falls short, his path to victory narrows substantially.
The Trump campaign has grown increasingly worried about states he won handily four years ago, including Ohio and, to a lesser extent, Texas. He all but must win at least one of the three Great Lakes states he flipped red in 2016.
But facing stubborn deficits in Wisconsin and Michigan, the president has placed renewed focus on Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes.
Trump will have to run up his margins in the state’s rural areas to win, as his prospects have slipped since 2016 in places like vote-rich suburban Philadelphia, where he underperformed by past Republican measures.
Freking reported from Johnstown, Pa; Lemire reported from New York; Barrow from Pembroke Pines, Florida. Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed to this report.