By JILL COLVIN, WILL WEISSERT and AAMER MADHANI, Associated Press
LUMBERTON, North Carolina (AP) — President Donald Trump on Saturday mocked Democrat Joe Biden as “an inspiring guy” for raising alarm about the pandemic even as the president attracted sizable campaign crowds with coronavirus cases surging across the country in the closing days of the race.
Biden, pressing the case that Trump doesn’t deserve a second term because of his handling of the pandemic, said at his own smaller drive-in rally outside Philadelphia that he didn’t “like the idea of all this distance but it’s necessary” for public health reasons.
”We don’t want to become superspreaders,” he said, using a term that has been used to described a Rose Garden event in late September where Trump announced his Supreme Court nominee. More than two dozen people linked to the White House have contracted COVID-19 since that gathering.
Biden, with some help from rock legend Jon Bon Jovi, was courting voters in hotly contested pockets of Pennsylvania that could prove key to deciding the outcome of the race in the state.
Trump criticized Biden for saying during Thursday’s debate that the country is headed for a “dark winter” because of the pandemic — the scenario that health experts have warned about for months. The president jabbed at television news outlets for covering the pandemic, which has killed nearly 224,000 people in the United States. The nation’s coronavirus tally reached record heights with more than 83,000 infections reported on Friday.
“We’re rounding the turn … our numbers are incredible,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Lumberton, North Carolina, that drew hundreds of people who stood shoulder to shoulder.
The president was scheduled to hold rallies later in Circleville, Ohio, and Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Trump said that he watched Biden’s Pennsylvania rally as he flew to North Carolina and said it appeared attendees, who were in their cars, weren’t properly socially distancing.
“You know why we have cases?” Trump added. “’Cause we test so much. And in many ways, it’s good. And in many ways, it’s foolish. In many ways, OK? In many ways it’s very foolish.”
Trump, who spent the night at his Mar-a-Lago resort after campaigning Friday in Florida, started his day by stopping at an early voting polling site set up at a public library to cast his own ballot. The president last year switched his official residence from New York to his private Florida club, complaining that New York politicians had treated him badly.
Greeted at the polling site by a crowd of cheering supporters, Trump could have mailed in his ballot, but opted to vote in person. He wore a mask inside, following local rules in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. He told reporters that he voted for “a guy named Trump” after casting his ballot.
Biden hasn’t voted and is likely do so in person on Election Day, Nov. 3., as Delaware doesn’t offer early voting. Trump, who has made unsubstantiated claims of massive fraud about mail-in voting, gave another plug to in-person voting.
“When you send in your ballot it could never be like that. It could never be secure like that,” Trump said.
The rise in coronavirus cases are an ominous sign the disease still has a firm grip on the nation that has more confirmed virus-related deaths and infections than any other in the world. Many states are reporting a surge of cases and say hospitals are running out of space in areas where the pandemic seemed remote only months ago.
Biden’s first stop was in Bucks County, part of suburban Philadelphia that Hillary Clinton won by a slim margin in the 2016 White House race. He was scheduled to host another rally later Saturday in Luzerne County, a blue-collar area that twice voted for Barack Obama but went overwhelmingly for Trump four years ago. Biden’s campaign said the former vice president will be joined by Bon Jovi, a native of neighboring New Jersey, who will sing at the Luzerne event.
In the Nov. 3 election more than 54 million votes have already been cast, with an additional 100 million or so expected before a winner is declared.
The pandemic has pushed Trump onto the defensive for much of the fall, but for the moment it is Biden’s team that has been forced to explain itself. In the final minutes of Thursday night’s debate, the former vice president said he supports a “transition” away from oil in the U.S. in favor of renewable energy. The campaign released a statement hours later declaring that he would phase out taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuel companies, not the industry altogether.
But Trump, campaigning in North Carolina, again hammered Biden on the issue.
“He’s either crazy or he’s the worst liar,” Trump said. “I actually think there’s a third category. I think he doesn’t remember.”
As part of his damage control, Biden dispatched running mate Kamala Harris to help clarify his position as she campaigned in swing state Georgia on Friday. He also sought to clarify his position during remarks in Bucks County.
“Let me be clear, I’m not banning fracking in Pennsylvania or anywhere else,” Biden said.
As for Biden and oil, while ending the nation’s reliance on fossil fuel is popular among many liberals, the idea could hurt him among working-class voters in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas who depend on the industry, and fracking in particular, to make a living.
Biden has said he would ban new gas and oil permits — including fracking — on federal lands only. The vast majority of oil and gas does not come from federal lands.
Weissert reported from Bristol, Pennsylvania, and Madhani from Washington.
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