Biden and Trump return to campaign trail, Trump fundraising lags

WILMINGTON, Del./DORAL, Fla. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden plan to hit the campaign trail again on Friday with visits to three battleground states, after displaying their sharply contrasting styles in dueling televised town halls.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a commercial break during a live one-hour NBC News town hall forum with a group of Florida voters in Miami, Florida, U.S., October 15, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Trump is lagging in opinion polls and latest figures from his campaign showed he is also behind in fundraising in the final weeks before the Nov. 3 election.

Trump’s campaign 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.

Thursday night’s split-screen events replaced a presidential debate that was canceled after Trump’s bout with coronavirus.

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

Biden delivered policy-heavy answers and focused his attacks on Trump’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed 216,000 people in the United States and hammered the economy.

National opinion polls have shown Biden ahead for months and it was not clear whether Trump’s aggressive posture would alter what has been a stable race despite a whirlwind of news.

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More than 18.6 million Americans have already cast ballots, far more than at a similar juncture in 2016, according to a tracker at the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida.

Louisiana will begin early voting on Friday, following record turnout in competitive states Georgia, Texas and North Carolina this week.

Trump will travel to Florida and Georgia, two states that are seen as crucial to his chances of victory, while Biden will visit two cities in Michigan, another battleground state.

The second presidential debate had been scheduled for Thursday, but Trump pulled out after organizers said it would be virtual to lessen the risk of infection. The president, who spent several days at a military hospital after contracting the virus two weeks ago, has since returned to headlining campaign rallies.

In Thursday’s town hall event in Miami, he denounced white supremacists two weeks after failing to do so forcefully at the first presidential debate. But he would not do the same about QAnon, a fringe movement whose adherents believe Democrats are part of a global pedophilia ring.

“I do know they are against pedophilia, they fight it very hard,” Trump said, before saying he knew nothing about the conspiracy theory when pressed by Guthrie.

He also questioned whether masks are effective at stopping the spread of coronavirus, contradicting the consensus among public health experts, including those in his own administration.

BIDEN POLICIES

In Philadelphia on the ABC network, Biden outlined his plans to combat the pandemic and revive the economy by prioritizing testing, funding local and state governments and hiking taxes dramatically on corporations and the wealthy.

He again deferred when asked whether he supports adding justices to the Supreme Court, which some Democrats favor as a response to Republicans’ tactics in pushing for quick confirmation of Trump’s latest nominee to the court, Amy Coney Barrett. But he said he would announce his position before the election.

Coronavirus dominated the proceedings, as it has loomed over the last seven months of the campaign.

Trump, who has played down the crisis, said again on Thursday that the country has “rounded the corner,” despite surges in cases in many states.

Biden’s campaign said on Thursday that three people who recently traveled with him or his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, had tested positive. Neither candidate had close contact with the infected individuals, the campaign said, but Harris canceled her in-person events through Sunday as a precaution.

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