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Trump traverses US as Obama steps up support for Biden

Former president Barack Obama holds his first rally Wednesday in support of US election front runner Joe Biden, while Donald Trump campaigned frantically and accused his opponent, who stayed home in Delaware, of going “into hiding.”

Two weeks before the polls, the contrast in campaign strategies between Trump, 74, and Biden, 77, has never been more pronounced: the Republican president led another rally in the battleground state of Pennsylvania Tuesday, while Democrat Biden stayed mostly out of sight ahead of a pivotal televised debate later in the week.

Polls show Biden ahead and, with the clock running down, he appears confident.

In any case, few could ever out-campaign Trump, who has rediscovered his old energy with daily, sometimes twice-daily, rallies around the country since recovering from Covid-19 just over a week ago.

His latest rally was in Erie, a former Democratic stronghold that he won in 2016, symbolizing his successful capture of the white working-class vote that had long been loyal to the left and which Biden has been trying to claw back.

Trump’s message with a fortnight left to go has boiled down to a mix of optimism, telling Americans that the coronavirus pandemic is practically over, and ever more extreme attempts to tar Biden as corrupt — even saying Tuesday that he wants the attorney general to open an investigation ahead of the election.

But, underlining how hard it is for him to escape the subject of the Covid-19 crisis, Trump’s wife Melania canceled plans to accompany him to Pennsylvania at the last minute, complaining of a “lingering cough” following her own bout with the virus.

This was to have been her first appearance alongside Trump at a rally in more than a year, possibly boosting his dire standing among women voters.

– Slinging dirt –

After a difficult few weeks for his reelection hopes, compounded by three nights in hospital with the coronavirus, Trump believes he is storming into the final stretch with new momentum — even if published polls show little sign to support this theory.

“Things are changing fast,” Trump told the Fox & Friends program, claiming that his own polling showed Biden is “imploding.”

Both candidates will get something of a reality check on Thursday when they meet for their second and final televised debate.

To try and impose some sense of order after a chaotic first clash in September, the moderator will this time switch off each candidate’s microphone when their opponent is speaking, thereby trying to thwart interruptions.

In what could be seen as foreshadowing, Trump’s microphone cut out briefly at his Erie rally Tuesday. When it came back on, he blamed “Crooked Hillary” for the interruption — a reference to his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton.

At the debate Biden is sure to go after Trump for his record on the pandemic, which has killed around 220,000 Americans and, despite the president’s frequent claims, is surging back rather than going away.

A New York Times report Tuesday was likely to give Biden additional ammunition, revealing how Trump spent years cultivating business projects in China and even maintains a previously unknown bank account in the country.

As for Trump, he has made clear his priority is to pursue his claim that Biden’s son Hunter sold access to his father in Ukraine and China when he was vice president under Obama.

Trump upped his offensive Tuesday by calling on US Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate his “criminal” opponent “before the election.”

And he told Fox News that the accusation has sent Biden “into hiding.”

Trump is the subject of multiple allegations of sexual assault, corruption, and also is the first president to run for reelection after being impeached.

However, he won in 2016 in part thanks to the success of a last-minute push to sow doubt about Clinton’s honesty.

He is dusting off that playbook again. Crowds at Trump’s rallies have even repurposed the old anti-Clinton chant for Biden, shouting “lock him up.”

– Pennsylvania push –

According to a new poll from The New York Times/Siena College, Biden has a nine-point lead nationally.

Although this reflects the consensus of polls, there are outliers, including IBD/TIPP, which accurately predicted the 2016 shock result and sees a much tighter race now, with Biden only 2.3 points ahead.

Pennsylvania is one of the half-dozen states that Trump more or less has to win to amass enough electoral college votes to hold on to the presidency. Polls show Biden ahead there, though a Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed the gap narrowing slightly.

Reflecting the state’s importance, the Biden team said Obama would campaign in Pennsylvania on Wednesday at a “drive-in car rally” in Philadelphia, during which he will encourage early voting.

Firebrand Senator Bernie Sanders, who is hugely popular with the Democrats’ left wing, will go on Saturday.

A key element in this year’s campaign is early voting, which is at record-high levels amid fears over the spread of the virus. So far, 34 million Americans have cast ballots, according to the independent US Elections Project.