Donald Trump steered towards what he hoped was safer political ground with the US economy on Thursday as Democratic rival Joe Biden kept up his assault on the president’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 go to polling places in person, even as a tropical storm interrupted early voting in the South-east.
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 favours 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,” Mr Biden told supporters on Thursday.
Mr Trump, meanwhile, was celebrating a new federal estimate that the economy grew at a stunning 33.1% annual rate in the July-September quarter.
This was 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,” Mr Trump tweeted, predicting a dire reversal if Mr Biden was elected.
Economists, however, warned the economy was already weakening again and facing renewed threats as confirmed viral cases surged, hiring slowed, and federal stimulus help drew ever closer to running out.
Mr 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. Mr Trump, instead, is arguing Mr 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,” Mr Trump said of lockdowns.
Mr Trump and Mr Biden visited the western end of 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 cancelled his event in Fayetteville as Tropical Storm Zeta brought strong winds to the area.
Mr Biden was forced to wrap his speech up early at a drive-in rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds In Tampa due to a torrential downpour.
On Friday, Mr Trump is to visit three upper Mid-west states. He will hold a trio of rallies on Saturday in Pennsylvania before launching a whirlwind tour of battlegrounds including Florida, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania in the closing 48 hours of the race.
Mr Biden heads later in the week to three more states Mr Trump won in 2016: Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan, where he’ll hold a joint Saturday rally with former President Barack Obama.
Mr Biden’s campaign also announced he would visit Minnesota on Friday, hours before Mr Trump holds a rally in one of the few Clinton-voting states the president hopes to pick up this year.
The pandemic’s consequences were escalating, with deaths climbing in 39 states and an average of 805 people dying daily nationwide — up from 714 two weeks ago.
The sharp rise sent shockwaves through financial markets, causing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop 900-plus points on Wednesday.
Mr Trump, who frequently lauds rising markets, failed to mention the decline. Stock prices recovered somewhat on Thursday.