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REFILE-UPDATE 6-Trump barnstorms Florida while Biden campaigns in Michigan, early vote surges

17 Oct 2020 / 09:28 H.

    (Fixes spelling of Fort Myers in paragraph 5)

    By Steve Holland and Michael Martina

    OCALA, Fla./SOUTHFIELD, Mich., Oct 16 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump sought to boost his position in the battleground state of Florida on Friday by reaching out to seniors, while rival Joe Biden blasted Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic on a tour of the swing state of Michigan.

    The two men are focusing their campaigns on the closely-fought states that are expected to determine the winner of the Nov. 3 election.

    Trump, a Republican, lags in opinion polls https://polling.reuters.com and the latest figures from his campaign show he is also behind in fundraising as the race intensifies with 18 days to go before Election Day. Early voting is shattering records, with more than 22 million Americans having already cast ballots.

    Trump and the Republican National Committee raised some $247.8 million in September, his campaign manager said on Twitter, well behind the $383 million haul of Biden and the Democratic Party.

    At an indoor event with a crowd of seniors in Fort Myers, Florida, Trump expressed some uncharacteristic empathy for those who have lost family members to COVID-19.

    "My heart breaks for every grieving family that has lost a precious loved one. I feel their anguish. I mourn their loss. I feel their pain," Trump said.

    Biden, a Democrat, has shown strength with senior voters, many of whom have faulted Trump for his response to the health crisis. Biden has lambasted Trump for often playing down the seriousness of the crisis, and has knocked the administration for seeking to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

    "If I have the honor of becoming your president, we'll build on the Affordable Care Act, no matter what they do," Biden told an event in Michigan.

    Trump again asserted that the country was "rounding the turn" on the outbreak, now in its eighth month, even as nine states, including Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina, reported record one-day increases of new infections on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally.

    "He'll do anything to distract us from focusing on his failures to deal with this virus to protect the nation," Biden said. "It's not disappearing, in fact it's on the rise again. It's getting worse, as predicted."

    DEAD HEAT IN FLORIDA, OBAMA TO HIT THE TRAIL

    A new Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Trump and Biden in a statistical dead heat in Florida, which is coveted for its 29 electoral votes.

    Biden's campaign said former President Barack Obama would travel to Philadelphia next week to campaign on his former vice president's behalf.

    At a rally in Ocala, Florida, Trump played down Obama's potential impact.

    "Oh, I got an emergency call today. They say, 'Sir, I'm sorry to tell you, but President Obama is going to start campaigning for Sleepy Joe.' I said, 'so what's the problem with that' ... I said, 'you know, he campaigned harder than Hillary last time, so why do we care?'" Trump said.

    Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

    The president was to hold an event later on Friday in Macon, Georgia.

    Biden will attend an evening get-out-the-vote rally in Detroit.

    The Democrat tested negative for COVID-19 on Friday, his campaign said.

    A record 22 million Americans have already voted, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, including 2.2 million in Florida. About 136.6 million people in total voted in the 2016 election.

    Early voting began in Louisiana on Friday, following record turnout this week in the competitive states of Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.

    The candidates returned to the trail after dueling town hall events replaced a presidential debate that was canceled after Trump's recent bout with coronavirus.

    A combative Trump, sparring with moderator Savannah Guthrie on NBC, refused to condemn the conspiracy theory QAnon, reiterated his unsubstantiated assertion that the 2020 election was rife with fraud, and again questioned whether masks help fight the spread of COVID-19.

    Biden delivered policy-heavy answers and focused his attacks on Trump's handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 217,000 people in the United States and hammered the economy.

    Biden won the TV ratings battle between the two events, according to Nielsen ratings data.

    Biden averaged 13.9 million viewers on Walt Disney Co's ABC on Thursday night, CNN said. Trump pulled in 13 million across Comcast Corp's NBC and the company's MSNBC and CNBC cable channels.

    (additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Simon Lewis; Writing by Joseph Ax, James Oliphant and Jeff Mason; Editing by Scott Malone and Sonya Hepinstall)

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