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Trump stumps in Florida, Georgia, countering signs of Democratic surge

US President Donald Trump is campaigning hard in Florida, which he won in 2016
US President Donald Trump is campaigning hard in Florida, which he won in 2016 Brendan Smialowski AFP
4 min
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Ocala (United States) (AFP)

President Donald Trump fought Friday to recover from sinking election polls by campaigning in Florida with a hardline pitch to America's right wing, claiming that his Democratic opponent Joe Biden would deliver communism and a "flood" of criminal immigrants.

While Trump put on a brave face, the fact he was fighting at all for Florida and stumping later Friday in Georgia -- two states he won four years ago -- illustrated how much ground he has to make up against Biden in the 18 days left to the election.

With his polls sliding and US Covid-19 infections spiking, Trump is focusing entirely on his core Republican base, in hopes that highly energized supporters will turn out in huge numbers.

In Ocala, Florida, the coronavirus was an afterthought.

Instead, Trump tossed the large, loudly cheering crowd red meat on immigration, race, and his conspiracy theory that Biden is steeped in corruption.

Spicing his stump speech with lurid exaggerations, Trump claimed that the "Biden family is a criminal enterprise."

He said Democrats "have nothing but disdain for your values" and "want to turn America into a communist country" -- a reprise of his successful 2016 message tapping into white, working-class resentment.

Trump then dived into racially charged comments on Latin American migrants, saying Democrats will "flood your communities with illegal aliens, drugs, crime."

And he lashed out at one of his most outspoken critics, the Somali-American Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, saying "she hates our country" and "comes from a place that doesn't even have a government."

Trump had still more venom for journalists, whom he called "the enemy of the people."

- Biden highlights pandemic -

Biden, meanwhile, stopped in Southfield, Michigan, ripping into Trump's handling of the coronavirus -- the strongest issue of his campaign.

"He keeps telling us that this virus is going to disappear like a miracle," Biden said.

"My lord! It's not disappearing, in fact it's on the rise again, it's getting worse, as predicted," Biden said.

He also homed in on another area where Trump has run into regular controversy -- his often lackluster responses when asked to condemn extreme right-wing groups and white supremacists.

He said Trump's comments were a "dog whistle" to such groups.

- Caution -

However, Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon sounded a note of caution for Democrats, saying national polls especially were misleading.

"We are not ahead by double digits," she said. "Those are inflated national public polling numbers."

Biden will be getting help from Democratic superstar Barack Obama on Wednesday next week when the former president, who had Biden as his vice president, campaigns in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

As the polling clouds darken for Trump, prominent members of his own Republican party -- including Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas -- are sounding the alarm.

Sasse, in a telephone call with constituents this week obtained by The Washington Examiner, said a defeat for Trump looks "likely" and Republicans may also lose the Senate.

Sasse also had harsh words for Trump, saying he is "TV-obsessed," "narcissistic" and allowed his family to treat "the presidency like a business opportunity."

But Senator Lindsey Graham, a key Republican ally for Trump, told AFP that voters were starting to weigh up the pros and cons of the two parties, rather than focusing on Trump's bruising personality.

"I think it's getting better for us by the day," he said.

They had been scheduled to hold one this Thursday but Trump backed out after it was changed to a virtual debate following his Covid-19 diagnosis. The candidates held rival town hall events instead.

Trump, a former reality television star, won't be happy about the ratings: 14.1 million tuned in to Biden's event, while 13.5 million watched Trump, according to Nielsen ratings data.

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