WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is spending the closing days of his re-election campaign criticizing public officials and medical professionals who are trying to combat the coronavirus pandemic even as it surges back across the United States.
Campaigning in the Midwest on Friday, Trump delivered a closing message that promised an economic revival and a vaccine to combat COVID-19, which is pushing hospitals to capacity and killing up to 1,000 people in the United States each day.
But he also directed attacks beyond just his rival in Tuesday’s election, Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump falsely said doctors earn more money when their patients die of the disease, building on his past criticism of medical experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious diseases expert.
The president criticized Democratic officials in Minnesota for enforcing social-distancing rules that limited his rally to 250 people. “It’s a small thing, but a horrible thing,” he said.
Opinion polls show Trump trailing Biden nationally, but with a closer contest in the most competitive states that will decide the election. Voters say the coronavirus is their top concern.
Biden, for his part, has accused Trump of giving up in the fight against the disease, which has killed almost 229,000 people in the United States.
Biden’s campaign has sharply limited crowd sizes at events or restricted supporters to their cars.
On Saturday, Trump will travel to Pennsylvania, campaigning in the cities of Newtown, Reading and Butler.
The state has not as yet seen the dramatic rises in coronavirus cases that are threatening hospital capacity in Wisconsin and other battleground states. Still, nearly 8,700 people in the state have died of the disease this year.
Biden, 77, will campaign in Michigan, joined by former President Barack Obama, for whom he served as vice president.
Trump, 74, won both Pennsylvania and Michigan by narrow margins in his surprise 2016 victory. Reuters/Ipsos opinion polls show Biden leading Trump by 5 percentage points in Pennsylvania and 9 points in Michigan.
Analysts expect record turnout in the election. At least 86 million Americans have already cast ballots in person or through the mail, according to the University of Florida’s Elections Project, or 63% of the total 2016 turnout.
Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that mail-in ballots are susceptible to fraud and has more recently argued that only the results available on election night should count. In a flurry of legal motions, his campaign has sought to restrict absentee balloting.
Officials in several states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, say it could take several days to count all of those mail ballots, meaning there could be days of uncertainty if the outcome hinges on those states.
Security officials are preparing for a range of possible threats, from spontaneous acts of violence to more organized, planned attacks. In downtown Washington, workers on Friday boarded up storefronts near the White House to protect against possible damage.