JOHNSTOWN, Pa./PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden fanned out to critical battleground states on Tuesday as the presidential race entered a final, intense phase amid record numbers of early votes cast.
At a rally in Pennsylvania, Trump blasted Biden on his environmental and energy policies as a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed him losing ground in the battleground state. Biden stumped again in Florida, chasing the all-important senior vote as he faulted Trump for his handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Trump’s event in Johnstown was his second campaign event in two nights as he raced to make up time he lost while recovering from the virus. He plans to hold rallies the rest of the week as he seeks to close what polls say is a significant gap with Biden nationwide but a tighter one in some battleground states.
Trump is battling the clock. Almost 12 million ballots have been cast so far, including more than 1.6 million in Florida, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, shattering previous records.
The president accused Biden of wanting to ban fracking, the process of extracting gas through hydraulic fracturing, which he said would damage the state’s economy.
“One of the most important issues for Pennsylvania is the survival of your fracking industry,” Trump told the crowd, some of whom sported red-and-blue MAGA masks. “Joe Biden has repeatedly pledged to abolish fracking. He’s a liar.”
Biden has said that he wants to ban new oil and gas production on federal lands, but not ban fracking outright – although his statements on the issue have at times been confusing.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday showed Biden with a 7-point lead in Pennsylvania, up from 5 points a week earlier. Trump narrowly won the state in 2016.
Speaking to about 50 people at a community center in Broward County in South Florida, Biden said Trump had recklessly dismissed the threat that the coronavirus had posed to their at-risk population.
“To Donald Trump, you’re expendable. You’re forgettable. You’re virtually nobody. That’s how he sees seniors. That’s how he sees you,” Biden said.
At his Johnstown event, Trump pledged to protect seniors. Biden has said Trump wants to eliminate the payroll tax, which helps fund the Social Security benefit program for retirees.
“While I am president, no one will touch your Medicare or your Social Security,” Trump said.
A Biden win over Trump in Florida would seriously jeopardize the president’s chances for re-election, and most recent opinion polls show the Democrat ahead with key demographic groups in the state, particularly seniors. Trump won Florida in 2016 by 1.2 percentage points.
After Tuesday, Trump plans rallies in Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida later this week as he barnstorms through crucial states just three weeks ahead of the November election.
The president’s schedule, however, sends him to areas friendly to him, suggesting that his campaign is concerned with mobilizing his conservative base rather than reaching out to undecided voters, many of who live in the nation’s suburbs.
FOCUS TURNS TO PANDEMIC
The president returned to the campaign trail on Monday night in Florida for the first time since disclosing he had the coronavirus.
The rally came hours after the White House said Trump had tested negative for COVID-19 on consecutive days and was not infectious to others.
They were the president’s first negative COVID-19 tests announced by the White House since Trump said on Oct. 2 that he had contracted the virus. In a memo, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley did not say when the tests were conducted.
Biden has been critical of Trump’s management of the pandemic. Trump has worked for months to shift public attention away from the coronavirus, which has infected more than 7.8 million people in the United States, killed more than 214,000 and put millions out of work.
But Trump’s illness has put the focus of the campaign’s closing stretch squarely on his response to the coronavirus.
In Florida, Biden said he was disappointed that Trump’s bout with the virus had not left him more chastened about his approach to the pandemic.
“The longer Donald Trump is president, the more reckless he seems to get,” Biden said. “Thank God we only have three weeks left to go.”
(Reporting by Nadita Bose in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and Joseph Ax in South Florida: Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Jason Lange; Writing by John Whitesides and James Oliphant; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Noeleen Walder and Peter Cooney)