Obama joins Biden to campaign in Michigan before US presidential election

Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden (R) and former president Barack Obama on stage together at a rally at Northwestern High School in Flint, Michigan on October 31, 2020.
Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden (R) and former president Barack Obama on stage together at a rally at Northwestern High School in Flint, Michigan on October 31, 2020. © AP - Andrew Harnik

Calling Joe Biden his “brother”, Barack Obama on Saturday accused Donald Trump of failing to take the coronavirus pandemic and the presidency seriously, as Democrats leaned on America's first Black president to energize Black voters in battleground state Michigan on the final weekend of the 2020 campaign.


Obama, the 44th president, and Biden, his vice president who wants to be the 46th, held drive-in rallies in Flint and Detroit, predominantly Black cities where strong turnout will be essential to swing the long-time Democratic state into Biden's column after Trump won it in 2016.

“Three days until the most important election of our lifetime – and that includes mine, which was pretty important,” said Obama, urging Democrats to get to the polls.

The memories of Trump's win in Michigan and most of the Upper Midwest are still searing in the minds of many Democrats during this closing stretch before Tuesday's election.

As of Saturday, nearly 92 million voters had already cast ballots nationwide, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Tens of millions more will vote by the time polls close on Tuesday night.

In Michigan, the former president hammered on Trump's continued focus on the size of his campaign crowds.

“Did no one come to his birthday party when he was a kid? Was he traumatised?” Obama said in a mocking tone. “The country’s going through a pandemic. That’s not what you’re supposed to be worrying about."

Slam dunk

Obama was attempting to help give Biden an electoral slam dunk, but the former high school basketball player nailed a three-pointer instead. Literally. 

At a high school gym in Flint, Obama, who is known for his skill on the court, was passed a basketball as he was leaving the room.

The former president dribbled, then sank the shot from the corner before casually resuming his exit and confidently telling the campaign entourage, "That's what I do."

Video of the shot quickly went viral, gaining hundreds of thousands of likes and praise from none other than LeBron James, recently named Most Valuable Player of the 2020 NBA Finals.

Schoolyard taunts

Throughout the day, Trump and Biden, both septuagenarians, threw stinging barbs at one another that at moments verged into schoolyard taunt territory.

Speaking in Flint, Biden joked of Trump, “When you were in high school, wouldn’t you have liked to take a shot?” He also mocked the president as a “macho man".

Trump, too, on Saturday suggested he could beat up Biden if given the chance and suggested the former vice president wears sunglasses to cover up “surgery on the eyes”.

“He’s not a big guy,” Trump said of Biden. “A slight slap, you wouldn’t have to close your fist.”

Later in Detroit, Biden ridiculed Trump for calling himself a "perfect specimen", called him Russian President Vladimir Putin’s "puppy", and joked about a New York Times report that showed Trump had spent $70,000 on hair care.

As Biden campaigned in Michigan, Trump made an aggressive play for pivotal Pennsylvania, focusing largely on his white, working-class base in four rallies, the last ending at about 10pm (0300 GMT) as temperatures fell to near 40 Fahrenheit (4.44 Celsius).

"You know,” Trump told supporters in Montoursville, "if we win Pennsylvania, it's over. That's why I'm standing up here."

Earlier in the day in a small town in Bucks County on the eastern edge of the state, Trump raised baseless concerns about election fraud, pointing specifically at Philadelphia, a city whose large African American population is key to Biden's fate in the state.

"They say you have to be very, very careful – what happens in Philadelphia," Trump charged. "Everybody has to watch."

Republicans are betting that Trump can win a second term by driving up turnout among his strongest supporters – white, non-college-educated men and rural voters – while limiting Biden's advantage with Blacks and Latinos. Democrats in several swing states worry that voters of colour may not be excited enough about Biden to show up in the numbers they need.

'An incredible job'

The worst day of the year in terms of new Covid-19 infections arrived with Election Day looming. More than 99,000 Americans reported new cases of coronavirus on Friday, a record high, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Trump told Pennsylvania voters that his administration has done “an incredible job” dealing with the pandemic. He promised that the mass distribution of a vaccine was “just weeks away”. He's been saying that since August.

Biden has focused on Trump’s inability to control the pandemic. “We’re gonna beat this virus and get it under control and the first step to doing that is beating Donald Trump," he said.

With the campaign down to the final days, Trump’s closing sprint includes, in addition to four stops in Pennsylvania, nearly a dozen events in the final 48 hours across states he carried in 2016.

Biden will close out his campaign on Monday in Pennsylvania, the state where he was born and the one he’s visited more than any other. The Biden team announced that the candidate, his wife, Jill, running mate Kamala Harris, and the California junior senator's husband, Doug Emhoff, plan to “fan out across all four corners of the state”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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