LAS VEGAS/DURHAM (REUTERS) – US President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden were courting early voters on Sunday (Oct 18) in the competitive states of Nevada and North Carolina, as the final presidential debate looms later this week.
Some 27.7 million Americans have already cast ballots either by mail or in person ahead of the Nov 3 election, according to the US Elections Project at the University of Florida. The record-shattering figure is being driven in part by concerns about crowds at polling sites on Election Day amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, a Republican, was spending his Sunday in Nevada, a state he hopes to wrest away from Democrats after narrowly losing it in 2016.
The president, who rarely goes to church but has remained popular among evangelical Christians for his opposition to abortion and for appointing conservative judges, began his day by attending a service at the International Church of Las Vegas.
Trump, who recently came down with his own bout of Covid-19, did not wear a mask for the indoor service.
One of the church’s pastors, Denise Goulet, said to Trump from the stage that God had told her he would win the 2020 election. Trump put a handful of US$20 bills into an offering bucket and bowed his head during a prayer.
Biden flew to North Carolina, a battleground where 1.4 million, or 20 per cent, of the state’s registered voters had already voted as of Sunday morning.
The former vice president’s campaign said he would urge residents to make a plan to vote as early as possible at an event in Durham, while also detailing his proposals to lessen economic inequality for Black Americans.
His pick for vice president, Senator Kamala Harris, canceled in-person events over the weekend as a precaution after an aide tested positive for Covid-19. She will return to the campaign trail on Monday with a visit to Florida to mark that state’s first day of early in-person voting.
Trump will campaign every day leading up to Thursday’s debate in Florida, including stops in Arizona and North Carolina, campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
While Trump lags in opinion polls at a national level and in many battleground states, Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said over the weekend that the national figures are misleading because must-win states are close.
“We cannot become complacent because the very searing truth is that Donald Trump can still win this race, and every indication we have shows that this thing is going to come down to the wire,” she wrote in a memo to donors.
US presidential elections are determined by electoral votes, allotted to US states and territories based largely on their populations, rather than by a tally of the popular vote nationwide.
Trump campaigned on Saturday in Michigan and Wisconsin, two battleground states he narrowly won in the 2016 election.
In Muskegeon, Mich., he attacked Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, for imposing restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus and made light of a right-wing plot uncovered by the FBI to kidnap her.
“Hopefully you’ll be sending her packing pretty soon,” Trump said, prompting the crowd to yell back “Lock her up!” several times.
Whitmer said on Sunday’s Meet the Press on NBC that the president’s rhetoric was “incredibly disturbing” and “dangerous”for her and her family as well as other politicians whom he targets.
Opinion polls have shown a high level of concern among voters about the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 219,000 people in the United States and hammered the economy.
While the virus is deadliest for older people, the pandemic is motivating young voters as well, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted between Sept 29 and Oct 13. Among likely voters aged 34 and under, 25 per cent named Covid-19 as their top concern when picking a president, while jobs and the economy were cited by 20 per cent.