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UPDATE 2-Trump targets Michigan governor Whitmer in re-election campaign push

18 Oct 2020 / 10:08 H.

    (Changes dateline, adds quotes, updates death toll, early votes)

    By Jeff Mason and Michael Martina

    MUSKEGON, Mich./WILMINGTON, Del., Oct 17 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump took his re-election push to Michigan on Saturday despite rising coronavirus cases there, part of a swing through states he won in 2016 that polls show are supporting Democratic rival Joe Biden this year.

    Trump held a large outdoor rally in Muskegon, where supporters did not maintain social distance. Some wore masks and some did not.

    Michigan added 1,791 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, bringing the state's seven-day total to over 10,000 cases, a new record, according to the state's health department. Later Trump heads to Wisconsin, which reported 3,861 new COVID cases on Friday, also a new record. Trump won both states four years ago.

    Biden, a former vice president, has hammered Trump for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 219,000 people in the United States, the highest death toll in the world.

    Trump sought to turn that criticism around on Saturday by saying, falsely, that his rival would impede the recovery from the outbreak.

    "Biden will shut down the country, delay the vaccine and prolong the pandemic," Trump said.

    In a statement, Biden said he planned to unite the country to fight the virus if he wins.

    "All President Trump is offering the people of Michigan is more lies and distractions — no plan to get the virus under control, no strategy for pulling our economy out of this recession, no vision for uniting the country," he said.

    Trump's advisers have long seen Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Pennsylvania, as key to his chances of re-election. The president is also playing defense in traditional Republican strongholds, including Arizona, where he plans to campaign on Monday, and Georgia, where he campaigned on Friday night.

    At Saturday's rally, Trump targeted Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, several times, criticizing the state's rules to stop the spread of coronavirus, calling her "dishonest," and making 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 responded on Twitter to the chants. "This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials' lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans," she wrote.

    BEHIND IN POLLS

    Trump lags in opinion polls https://polling.reuters.com and the latest figures from his campaign show he is also trailing in fundraising as the race intensifies. Early voting is shattering records, with more than 26 million Americans having already cast ballots.

    Biden, who has stepped up travel in recent weeks after keeping a reduced schedule because of the pandemic, remained in his home state of Delaware on Saturday.

    His running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, is also eschewing travel for a few days after an aide came down with COVID-19.

    Harris, speaking on Saturday during a virtual fundraiser, said Trump had exhibited a "reckless disregard for human life" in his response to the pandemic.

    She said a Biden-Harris administration would have a vaccine distribution plan that takes into account "the long-standing and most evident racial disparities that have wreaked havoc on particular communities."

    U.S. presidential elections are determined by electoral votes, allotted to U.S. states and territories based largely on their populations, rather than a tally of the popular vote nationwide. Candidates must secure 270 out of 538 electoral votes to win.

    Wisconsin has 10 electoral votes, Michigan has 16 and Arizona has 11. Nevada, where Trump will campaign on Sunday, has six electoral votes.

    Capturing those votes will come down in part to convincing voters who is best placed to respond to the continuing coronavirus crisis.

    Trump, who usually avoids wearing a mask and whose rallies include thousands of people without social distancing, said again on Friday that the country is turning the corner on the disease, a day after the number of U.S. cases crossed 8 million, rising by 1 million in less than a month.

    Trump's string of campaign stops comes ahead of a critical week next week. The two candidates will face each other in their second and final debate on Thursday.

    Biden told reporters on Friday night that he was not engaged in intense debate preparation. "No, I'm just listening to him (Trump)," he said.

    (Reporting by Jeff Mason and Michael Martina; additional reporting by Heather Timmons; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Daniel Wallis and Sonya Hepinstall)

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