Backed into a corner and facing financial strains, President Donald Trump fought to defend his sagging reelection bid Friday in a state Republicans haven’t lost in nearly three decades. With Election Day looming, Democrat Joe Biden pushed to keep voters focused on health care in the Midwest.
Trump was campaigning in Florida and Georgia, neighboring Southeastern states he carried four years ago and must win again to extend his presidency. His decision to devote Friday evening’s prime-time slot to Georgia, in particular, highlighted the serious nature of his challenge in the 2020 contest’s closing days: Far from his original plan to expand into Democratic-leaning states, Trump is laboring to stave off a defeat of major proportions.
No Republican presidential candidate has lost Georgia since George H.W. Bush in 1992. And earlier in this week, Trump courted voters in Iowa, a state he carried by almost 10 points four years ago.
At his first of two stops Friday in Florida, the president spoke directly to seniors who have increasingly soured on his handling of the pandemic.
“I am moving heaven and earth to safeguard our seniors from the China virus,” Trump said, using his usual blame-shifting term to describe the coronavirus. He also offered an optimistic assessment of the pandemic, even as a surge of new infections spread across America.
“We are prevailing,” the president said, promising to deliver the first doses of a vaccine to seniors when it’s ready.
Despite the tough talk, Trump’s actions on the ground in Florida underscored the conflicting messages his administration has sent throughout the pandemic. All of the president’s security personnel and support staff were wearing face masks when Air Force One touched down, but Trump and Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis were bare-faced.
Meanwhile, the president’s campaign released new numbers late Thursday, suggesting he is likely the first incumbent president to face a financial disadvantage in the modern era.
Trump’s campaign, along with the Republican National Committee and associated groups, raised $247.8 million in September, well short of the $383 million raised by Biden and the Democratic National Committee. To open October, the Trump effort officially had $251.4 million in the bank, according to a campaign spokesman, compared to $432 million for Biden.
The president was fighting for momentum on the campaign trail a day after he and Biden squared off in dueling televised town halls that showcased striking differences in temperament, views on racial justice and approaches to the pandemic.
On NBC, Trump was defensive about his administration’s handling of the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 217,000 lives in the United States, and evasive when pressed about whether he took a required COVID-19 test before his first debate with Biden. Angry and combative, Trump refused to denounce the QAnon conspiracy group — and only testily did so regarding white supremacists.
The Republican president also appeared to acknowledge revelations from a recent New York Times report that he was in debt and left open the possibility that some of it was owed to a foreign bank. But he insisted that he didn’t owe any money to Russia or any “sinister people” and suggested that $400 million in debt was a “very, very small percentage” compared to his overall assets.
On ABC, Biden suggested he would offer clarity on his position on expanding the Supreme Court if Trump’s nominee to the bench is seated before Election Day. He eagerly denounced the White House’s handling of the virus, declaring that Trump’s administration was at fault for closing a pandemic response office established by the Obama administration in which he served.
The former vice president planned to continue challenging Trump’s record on the pandemic, and his years-long unfulfilled promises to create a stronger and more affordable health care system in battleground Michigan. Biden was scheduled to make two appearances in the Detroit area.
The Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the current health care law and its protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Trump is promising a replacement but has yet to release a comprehensive plan.
While decidedly on the defensive on the ground in key states, Trump released a scathing new ad on Friday attacking Biden’s record on race. Specifically, the ad seizes on Biden’s support for a criminal justice law that disproportionately punished people of color.
“He insulted us, jailed us, we must not elect him president,” the narrator declares.
It’s unclear whether the attack ad will break through the saturated airwaves. Biden and his allies are outspending Trump and his allies on paid advertising more than 2 to 1 through Election Day, according to the advertising tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.