WASHINGTON DC (AFP) – Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden traded tough blows Monday as the White House race entered its final stretch, with the Republican leader branding his opponent “stupid” — and the Democrat firing back that the president lacked the “guts” to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris took their campaign message to must-win swing states Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the president convened a surprise news conference at the White House.
In a freewheeling and grievance-laden performance, Trump once more teased the possibility of a COVID-19 inoculation by Election Day – something experts say remains unlikely – and accused his opponents of playing politics with a vaccine after Harris said she would not take his word alone on its safety.
Touting an upswing in job creation – after tens of millions lost jobs – and claiming the US is turning the corner on the pandemic, he called Biden “stupid,” saying he “wants to surrender our country to the virus, he wants to surrender our families to the violent left-wing mob, and he wants to surrender our jobs to China.”
Labor Day traditionally kicks off the final sprint of the campaign, with less than two months until the November 3 election – but the rival campaigns have been knocked off stride by multiple layers of turmoil, from the pandemic to the struggling US economy to deep racial unrest.
Candidates who normally would be skipping daily from state to state to speak before big crowds are limiting their movements and doing much more virtually.
And the sometimes violent anti-racism protests and counter-protests – the latest a pro-Trump motorcade rumbling Monday on the outskirts of Portland – lend an explosive element to the campaign.
Biden headed Monday to the swing state of Pennsylvania, where he held a socially-distant meeting with union leaders before taking questions from members of the huge AFL-CIO union at its headquarters.
Addressing the event, he hit back at Trump, charging that “he didn’t have the guts to take on COVID-19.”
“We know he’s been great for his rich friends, but he hasn’t been so great for the rest of us,” charged Biden, who went on to assail Trump over a report in The Atlantic magazine that he has disparaged the military and its veterans.
“He’s downright un-American,” Biden fumed.
Though Trump has dismissed the report as a “hoax,” it appears to have hit a nerve following a poll showing his support below that for Biden among active-duty personnel.
“I’m not saying the military (leadership) is in love with me – the soldiers are,” he told reporters at the White House.
Battling for Wisconsin votes
At 77, Biden last week picked up the pace of campaigning but, citing the COVID-19 threat, has been far more cautious than Trump, who at 74 has appeared before hundreds of supporters.
Still, polls show Biden maintaining a persistent lead over Trump, with both increasingly focusing on key upper Midwest states like Wisconsin, where polling is closer – and where Hillary Clinton narrowly lost to Trump in a 2016 shocker.
Harris, in her highest-profile campaign sortie yet, headed to the state where she followed in Biden’s footsteps by meeting with the family of Jacob Blake, the African American man who’s shooting by police touched off widespread protests last month.
The California senator – the first woman of color on a major-party presidential ticket – spoke by phone to Blake himself as he recovers in hospital. Later she met with union members and black businesspeople.
Black participation dropped in Wisconsin in 2016, and could prove pivotal this year.
Pence also headed to the state Monday to deliver remarks to an energy cooperative in the western city of La Crosse.