DES MOINES, IOWA (REUTERS) - Under siege over his handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday (Oct 14) cited what he said was his son's mild bout of the virus as a reason why American schools should reopen as soon as possible.
Trump made the comment about his son, Barron, as the president swept into Iowa on a mission to shore up support in battleground states that he won in 2016 but is in danger of losing to Democrat Joe Biden barely three weeks before the election.
First lady Melania Trump announced in a statement earlier in the day that the virus that struck both her and her husband had also infected their 14-year-old son.
The president, a Republican who is trailing Biden in national and some key state opinion polls, brought up his son at a rally at the Des Moines, Iowa, airport.
"I don't even think he knew he had it," he said of Barron, "because they're young and their immune systems are strong and they fight it off. 99.9 per cent and Barron is beautiful. And he's free."
"Barron's tested positive. Within, like, two seconds it was Barron is just fine now. He's tested negative, right? Because it happens. People have it and it goes. Get the kids back to school, we've got to get the kids back to school."
Trump has sought to convince states to reopen schools and return to normal, but teachers' unions have fought the move, arguing that teachers could be infected by their students.
Funding for protective measures at schools has been caught up in a partisan fight in Washington.
Trump's Iowa stop is part of a barnstorming tour across states critical to deciding who will win the Nov 3 election.
"Twenty days from today, we're going to win this state, "Trump said on a windy night in Des Moines, where many in the crowd were not wearing masks to guard against the novel coronavirus that has killed nearly 216,000 Americans.
"We're going to win four more years in the White House."
On Thursday he will be in North Carolina and Florida, on Friday he will campaign in Florida and Georgia and on Saturday he will speak in Michigan and Wisconsin.
All of these are states he won in 2016 but are in danger of going to Biden this year, potentially denying Trump a second term.
He is expected to spend Saturday night in Las Vegas, Nevada, and then launch into a western swing.
Trump on Wednesday pulled into a statistical tie with Biden in Florida, a key battleground, at 47 per cent vs 49 per cent with a credibility interval of four points, a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll showed, though Biden had a 10 percentage point advantage nationally among likely voters.
On Thursday, Trump and Biden, who had been due to hold a second presidential debate, will instead take part in duelling televised town halls.
NBC News said Trump's event in Miami would take place outdoors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Biden's ABC News event will take place in Philadelphia.
That Trump, who fell ill with the virus earlier this month, is travelling to Iowa so close to Election Day suggests his campaign is concerned about voter support there for his re-election.
Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the state by almost 10 percentage points in 2016, but opinion polls have shown Iowa to be competitive.
Nearly 15 million Americans have cast ballots, setting a record early pace, according to the US Elections Project at the University of Florida. Many are seeking to avoid the large crowds expected on Election Day.
In the last presidential election, some 1.4 million Americans had cast early votes as of Oct 16, 2016.
About two dozen people showed up more than two hours before polls opened in Memphis, Tennessee, to claim spots in line, local media reported, as voting opened in Kansas, Rhode Island and Tennessee.
In Georgia, where long lines snaked out of polling places and down sidewalks on the first two days of early voting this week, Gwinnett County election officials reported waits of up to three hours to cast early ballots on Wednesday.
Biden widens lead
Trump looks to be spending much of the week aiming to galvanise his white, conservative base rather than seeking to appeal directly to undecided voters, many of whom live in the country's suburbs.
On Thursday, he heads to Greenville in rural North Carolina, a closely fought state where early voting will begin that day, then on to rural Georgia and central Florida the next day.
Reuters/Ipsos polling released this week showed Biden widening his lead in the key states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania - states Trump won in 2016.
Iowa has experienced a spike in Covid-19 cases, with hospitalisations at an all-time high. Republican Governor Kim Reynolds has resisted any statewide containment measures such as a mandate to wear masks and urged Trump supporters on social media to turn out en masse for the president.