TAMPA • President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden showcased their contrasting approaches to the resurgent coronavirus pandemic as they rallied supporters on Thursday in the battleground state of Florida, with the clock winding down to election day.
Opinion polls show Mr Biden with a significant edge nationally, but with a tighter lead in the battleground states that play a decisive role in the final result.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed Mr Trump had essentially moved into a tie with Mr Biden in Florida, with 49 per cent saying they would vote for Mr Biden and 47 per cent for the President.
With its 29 electoral votes, the state is a major prize in next Tuesday's election. Mr Trump's victory in Florida in 2016 was vital to his surprise election win.
Thousands of people, many of them without masks, crowded together at an outdoor event in Tampa on Thursday to hear Mr Trump mock his opponent, the former vice-president. "Could you imagine losing to this guy? Could you imagine?" Mr Trump said.
The President also downplayed the pandemic, as he has done throughout the year, telling people that if they contracted the virus, they would "get better", just as he did after his own diagnosis.
Hours later, Mr Biden arrived in the same city to hold a "drive-in" rally, where attendees remained in or near their cars to avoid the possible spread of the virus, his second such event of the day in Florida.
Supporters at the event wore masks, as required by Mr Biden's campaign, although they did not always maintain social distancing.
He criticised Mr Trump for holding what he termed a "super-spreader event" and attacked the President's repeated assertion that the country had moved past the worst days of the pandemic, despite cases rising nationwide.
"Donald Trump has waved the white flag, abandoned our families and surrendered to this virus," Mr Biden said. "But the American people never give up; we never give in."
The pandemic that has upended life across the United States, killed more than 227,000 people and caused millions of job losses, is roaring back.
Mr Trump has repeatedly dismissed the threat, even as leaders in Europe scramble to contain a second wave and public health experts predict a grim winter in the US. Officials in Gastonia, North Carolina, warned people who attended an Oct 21 Trump rally there that two people who took part tested positive for Covid-19.
Mr Trump's White House coronavirus task force is warning of a persistent and broad spread of Covid-19 in the western half of the country, including in a number of states that will play an important role in the election.
The Republican President hailed figures released on Thursday that showed the US economy grew at an unrivalled annualised pace of 33 per cent in the third quarter because of a huge federal pandemic relief programme. "So glad this great GDP number came out before November 3rd," Mr Trump wrote in a tweet.
It is doubtful, however, whether economic data this close to election day can influence the outcome.
Mr Biden can point out that US output remains below its level in the fourth quarter of last year, before the pandemic hit.
Following his own bout with Covid-19, the President has had a hectic campaign schedule, holding as many as three rallies a day in different states, while Mr Biden has taken a more measured tack, spending two days this week close to his home base of Delaware.
More than 80 million Americans have already cast ballots in the presidential election, according to a tally on Thursday from the US Elections Project at the University of Florida, setting the stage for the highest participation rate in over a century. That surge includes more than 51 million ballots cast by mail, a longstanding practice of American elections that is surging in popularity because of the pandemic.
State officials and experts have warned that it may take days or even weeks to tally them as some states have rules that forbid counting early votes before election day.