By LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — With five days until Election Day, and President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden racing toward Nov. 3, nearly 80 million Americans have already cast their ballots — an early voting record.
Thursday brings both Trump and Biden to Tampa, Florida, revealing how crucial the swing state is to both campaigns, with the contest overshadowed by coronavirus cases rising there and in every battleground state.
The president’s aggressive, defensive strategy comes as polls show him trailing nationally and in battleground states key to his reelection hopes. First lady Melania Trump joins him for the first time. After his rally in Tampa, Trump holds a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, while Vice President Mike Pence is in Iowa and Nevada.
At his Tampa rally, Biden is expected to continue branding the race as a “battle for the soul of the nation” at a drive-in event, after an earlier event in Broward County. Running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris has a virtual voter mobilization event with the “Divine Nine” — historically Black fraternities and sororities — then an evening virtual rally with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Here is how Thursday is developing. All times Eastern:
Oct 29, 9:51 am
Overview: Trump, Biden hold dueling rallies in battleground Florida
Even as markets plunge and a new surge in coronavirus cases sweeps the country — with some states imposing new restrictions — Trump continues to close his reelection campaign by urging largely maskless crowds of supporters to dismiss the evidence. Trump insists the nation is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic, and to take his word that the economy is swiftly recovering.
The president is expected to continue that message today with campaign rallies in Florida and North Carolina — states he won in 2016 — seeking to defend his electoral map to a potential win. For the first time in the 2020 cycle, first lady Melania Trump will join her husband on the trail, attempting to bring an appeal to suburban women, a demographic Trump is struggling with.
He’s also expected to tout the gross domestic product (GDP) report out this morning showing the economy grew at an annual rate of 33.1% during the third quarter — the largest ever quarterly growth in data — but this figure comes on the heels of the biggest drop ever when the economy shrank 31.4% as the country shut down.
Like the president, Biden is also in the Sunshine State vying for Florida’s 29 electoral votes — hosting drive-in rallies in Broward County and Tampa.
The two will appear just hours apart in Tampa, near the western end of the I-4 corridor — the interstate that cuts through the middle of Florida from Dayton Beach through Orlando and down to St. Petersburg — that’s thought to be a bellwether region in the swing state. It’s the first time both candidates have actively campaigned in the same state on the same day in the presidential race.
Biden’s has framed his closing argument to voters on responsible pandemic management, acknowledging to voters Wednesday that even if he’s elected, the path to normal won’t be like “flipping a switch.” He has also hammered his plan for a national strategy to beat the virus and tried to set an example by wearing a mask and holding drive-in rallies to maintain social distancing.
The former vice president heads later this week to three more states Trump won in 2016 — Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan — where he’ll hold a drive-in rally Saturday with former President Barack Obama, their first joint appearance of 2020.
Biden’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris will participate in a virtual voter mobilization event with the Divine Nine — known formally as the National Pan-Hellenic Council and consisting of nine historically Black fraternities and sororities, including Alpha Kappa Alpha which Harris joined at Howard University. In the evening, she has a virtual rally with another former Democratic primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. as the ticket makes its final pitch to more progressive voters.
Pence speaks at campaign rallies in Des Moines, Iowa, and Reno, Nevada — a state which Hillary Clinton won by only 2.5 points in 2016 as Republicans seek to maintain their map and potentially pick up the Copper State.
Oct 29, 9:54 am
Contrasting images match competing themes in final election stretch
This time next week — give or take a few days, perhaps — the images of the closing days of this election will be held out as evidence that of course things would turn out the way they did.
Thursday will bring both Trump and Biden to Tampa, Florida, for rallies just five days before Election Day.
Trump will draw an enormous crowd. He will almost certainly mock Biden for not doing the same — hoping his ability to draw a crowd inspires enthusiasm among his supporters.
Biden will hold a “drive-in rally” where honks will be more prevalent than chants. He will almost certainly attack Trump for holding a massive public gathering in the midst of the pandemic — hoping his choices match better with how voters are living their lives.
On one level, Trump and Biden have adapted their campaigns to the extraordinary circumstances of the moment. Considered another way, they are using images to say something more about themselves as leaders — in how they view the severity of the crisis, and how a leader should act.
The numbers — polling, early vote and even COVID-19 spikes — point toward a favorable environment for Biden and his view of the race. Trump’s political career, though, has been built on a sense that he knows better than any numbers might suggest. If nothing else, as the campaign ends, he will act like he has from the start.
-ABC News’ Political Director Rick Klein
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