Trump sets hectic campaign pace as his party frets

Washington (AFP) –


President Donald Trump pushed on with a hectic series of rallies across the United States on Saturday, as he seeks to avert a potentially humiliating defeat at the ballot box in only 17 days.

Trump was storming through the battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin before overnighting in Nevada, desperately seeking to make up lost ground against Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who was keeping a quieter schedule.

The frenetic pace set by the 74-year-old president -- and the fact that he has had to devote time to states like Georgia and Florida that he won in 2016 -- reflected the Republican Party's mounting concern, even as his aides sought to project confidence.

"President Trump's strategy is to work for the vote of the American people," his spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said on Fox News.

"It's why he'll be in two states today, he'll have two rallies tomorrow, two more in Arizona on Monday, and he's going all-in."

Biden, after making several campaign stops Friday in Michigan, was keeping a low profile on Saturday in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

But he issued a statement to Wisconsin voters hours before Trump was to arrive there, focusing on a theme he has pursued relentlessly: Trump's mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

- 'He's been through Covid' -

"His failed response to the pandemic has crushed Wisconsin’s economy," Biden said, noting that 150,000 state residents had lost jobs since Trump took office in 2016.

Trump himself is recovering from Covid-19, as are a few dozen other White House and campaign personnel, including McEnany, but she sought to impart a positive spin on the experience.

"He's been through Covid himself, he's going to talk directly to the American people on that debate stage about his experience," she said.

The final televised debate between the candidates -- and one of Trump's last opportunities to argue his case before a wide audience -- is set for this Thursday. More than 21 million Americans have already cast early votes.

Trump backed out of what was to have been the second debate after organizers announced a virtual format following his Covid-19 diagnosis. The candidates held rival town hall events instead, with Biden drawing more viewers.

McEnany said Trump would use the final debate to "talk about his great response to Covid."

It has been a tough case for Trump to make.

The virus has claimed more than 215,000 American lives -- a dismal toll that is the world's worst -- and the president has frequently mocked or flouted health experts' guidelines.

Biden, 77, emphasized that point in his statement.

"President Trump is knowingly downplaying the severity of the virus," he said. "At virtually every turn, he has panicked and tried to wish it away, rather than doing the hard work to get it under control."

As the election nears, it is the incumbent who appears to face steeper odds, with polls indicating a Democratic surge and a few Republican senators have openly expressed doubts about their party's leader.

- Republican 'blood bath'? -

Senator Ben Sasse warned fellow Nebraskans in a recent phone call that Republicans faced a "blood bath in the Senate" after Trump had bungled the pandemic response, alienated global allies and mistreated women.

Trump, characteristically punched back Saturday on Twitter against Sasse's "rather stupid and obnoxious ways".

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has also warned of a "Republican blood bath of Watergate proportions."

And even Trump said in Georgia that "maybe I'll have to leave the country" if Biden wins -- a joke remark, but striking from a president notoriously allergic to any talk of losing.

Democrats -- and many Americans -- mistrust polling since the shock defeat of presumed favorite Hillary Clinton in 2016, but surveys chart a tougher road for Trump now.

On Saturday, thousands of people were expected to take part in rallies in Washington and elsewhere protesting against Trump and his recent nomination of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.