U.S. President Donald Trump is seeking to put his bout with COVID-19 behind him with a return to the campaign trail in Florida on Monday, as new polls show him losing more ground to Democratic rival Joe Biden in two battleground states that could decide the Nov. 3 election.
Trump’s evening rally at an airport in Sanford, Florida, will be his first since he disclosed on Oct. 2 that he tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and will kick off a three-week sprint to Election Day.
Trump, who spent three nights in a military hospital for treatment, said on Sunday he had fully recovered and was no longer infectious, but did not say directly whether he had tested negative for the coronavirus.
Biden tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday, his campaign said in a statement. The Democratic former vice president has tested negative a number of times since Trump announced his positive test.
Trump, 74, is seeking to change the dynamics of a race that national opinion polls and some state polls show he is losing to Biden, who is 77.
Biden pulled further ahead in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, building momentum in two states that Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election, Reuters/Ipsos opinion polls showed on Monday.
The polls, conducted Tuesday through Sunday, showed Biden now leading Trump by 7 percentage points in both states.
Reuters/Ipsos is polling likely voters in six states - Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona - that will play critical roles in deciding whether Trump wins a second term in office or if Biden is elected.
For months, Trump had worked furiously to shift public attention away from the virus and his handling of the pandemic, which has infected nearly 7.7 million people in the United States, killed more than 214,000 and put millions out of work.
His own illness has put the spotlight squarely on his coronavirus response during the closing stretch of the race, with the Biden campaign scaling up its attacks and stretching its campaign into states that normally lean Republican.
Speaking to unionized auto workers in Toledo, Ohio, on Monday, Biden said he and former President Barack Obama played a key role in keeping the U.S. auto industry afloat during the financial crisis and recession more than a decade ago.
“Barack and I bet on you and the American worker and it paid off,” said Biden, who is hoping to undermine what polls show is Trump’s greatest strength, the view among some voters that the former real estate entrepreneur is better at handling the economy.
Part of that effort requires winning over blue-collar workers whose support four years ago paved the way for Trump’s victory over the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
It was Biden’s second campaign trip in as many weeks to Ohio, which was once thought out of reach but where polls now show a competitive race.
Trump won the state by 8 percentage points four years ago and almost certainly must carry it again to win re-election. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio.
“President Trump won Ohio convincingly in 2016 and will do so again in November, so we are thrilled to see Joe Biden wasting a valuable day on the campaign trail visiting a state he cannot win,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
FLORIDA UP FOR GRABS
Trump’s rally in Florida, and planned rallies in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Iowa on Wednesday and North Carolina on Thursday, will be watched closely to see whether the president has reshaped his campaign approach since contracting the virus.
Most recent polls in Florida, where a Trump loss would dramatically narrow his path to re-election, show Biden with a small lead. Trump won Florida in 2016 by just 1.2 percentage points.
“Leaving now for Florida Rally. Big crowds!” the president tweeted on Monday.
Critics fault Trump for failing to encourage supporters at campaign events, and even White House staff, to wear protective masks and abide by social-distancing guidelines. At least 11 close Trump aides have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Trump campaign senior adviser Steve Cortes told Fox News that the president’s doctors said he was free of the disease and not contagious to anyone. “He has been like a racehorse who has been kept in a starting gate for too long. That horse is ready to gallop,” Cortes said.
Trump told Fox News on Sunday he felt good and, without producing evidence, that he was now immune, an assertion that drew a flag from Twitter for violating the social media platform’s rules about misleading information related to COVID-19.
The scientific research has been inconclusive on how long people who have recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies and are protected from a second infection.
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