More than 90 million Americans vote early as Trump, Biden make late campaign push

People walk past a large "I Voted" display as early voting for the election begins in Los Angeles, on Oct 30, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

NEWTOWN, Pennsylvania (REUTERS) - A record 90 million Americans have voted early in the presidential election, data on Saturday (Oct 31) showed, as President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden campaigned across the nation to try to sway the few remaining undecided voters.

The high number of early voters, about 65% of the total turnout in 2016, reflects intense interest in the contest, with three days of campaigning left.

Concerns about exposure to the coronavirus at busy Election Day voting places on Tuesday have also pushed up the numbers of people voting by mail or at early in-person polling sites.

Trump, a Republican, is spending the closing days of his re-election campaign criticising public officials and medical professionals who are trying to combat the coronavirus pandemic even as it surges back across the United States.

Opinion polls show Trump trailing former Vice President 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.

At a small, in-person rally in Newtown, Pennsylvania, Trump mocked his opponent on Saturday for his criticism of the administration's record of fighting Covid-19, which has killed more people in the United States than in any other country.

"I watched Joe Biden speak yesterday. All he talks about is Covid, Covid. He's got nothing else to say. Covid, Covid," Trump told the crowd, some of whom did not wear masks.

He said the United States was "just weeks away" from mass distribution of a safe vaccine against Covid-19, which is pushing hospitals to capacity and killing up to 1,000 people in the United States each day. Trump gave no details to back up his remarks about an imminent vaccine.

Campaigning in the Midwest on Friday, 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.

Biden has accused Trump of giving up in the fight against the disease, which has killed almost 229,000 Americans, and on Saturday slammed him for his comments about doctors.

"What in the hell is wrong with this man? Excuse my language. But think about it. He may believe it because he doesn't do anything other than for money," Biden told a drive-in rally in Flint, Michigan, with former President Barack Obama.

In his closing arguments, Biden has accused Trump of being a bully and criticised his lack of a strategy to control the pandemic, his efforts to repeal the Obamacare healthcare law and his disregard for science on climate change.

He has offered his own made-in-America economic platform, a contrast with Trump's "America First" approach, saying he will get the wealthy to pay their fair share and make sure earnings are distributed more equitably.

Stanford report

Stanford University economists on Saturday released an estimate that Trump rallies held from June to September led to more than 30,000 additional Covid-19 infections and possibly as many as 700 deaths.

The study was based on a statistical model and not actual investigations of coronavirus cases. The paper, which did not cite disease experts among its authors, has not been peer-reviewed.

Public health officials have repeatedly warned that Trump campaign events could hasten the spread of the virus, particularly those held in places where infection rates were already on the rise. Determining the actual impact of those rallies on infection rates has been difficult due to the lack of robust contact tracing in many US states.

Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, described the report as"suggestive." "I would just say it's suggestive but hard to completely isolate the specific impact of one event without robust contact trace data from the cases," Adalja said.

Biden's campaign, which has sharply limited crowd sizes at events or restricted supporters to their cars, quickly seized on the Stanford findings.

"Trump doesn't even care about the very lives of his strongest supporters," Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. Trump's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

On Saturday, Trump was focused on campaigning in Pennsylvania, with a total of four rallies planned.

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.

Biden, 77, campaigned in Michigan, home to the nation's car industry. His former boss Obama highlighted his administration's bailout of the auto sector after the 2008 financial crisis.

"Joe Biden and I - with the help of a Democratic Congress - rescued the auto industry," Obama told the Detroit rally.

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.

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