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Former U.S. President Barack Obama participates in a round table discussion with local officials during a campaign event for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at the Gathers Community Center on Oct. 21, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pa.

Michael M Santiago/GettyImages/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail on Wednesday, launching a blistering attack on Donald Trump with less than two weeks to go before the Republican president’s Election Day face-off with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Speaking at a drive-in rally in Philadelphia on behalf of Biden, his former vice president, Obama offered his most pointed critique yet of his successor.

“He hasn’t shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself,” Obama said of Trump.

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Obama, who governed for two terms and remains one of the most popular figures in the Democratic Party, blasted Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, noting that the president himself had fallen victim to the virus.

“Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us,” he said. “He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself.”

Obama’s appearance filled a gap left by Biden, who has stayed at home in Delaware since Monday for meetings and preparation ahead of his Thursday debate with Trump in Nashville, Tennessee.

Earlier in the day, Obama spoke to Black community leaders in Philadelphia.

“I’ve never lost hope over these last four years,” Obama said. “I’ve been mad. I’ve been frustrated, but I haven’t lost hope, and the reason is because I never expected progress to move directly in a straight line.”

Americans are voting early at a record pace this year, with 42 million ballots cast both via mail and in person ahead of the Nov. 3 election, on concerns about the coronavirus and to make sure their votes are counted.

The record early vote so far represents about 30% of the total ballots cast in 2016, according to the University of Florida’s U.S. Elections Project.

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While Obama was speaking, Trump headed to North Carolina, another battleground state where opinion polls show a tight race, for a rally in Gastonia on Wednesday evening.

Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, was also in North Carolina to mobilize voters in Asheville and Charlotte.

VIRUS SURGE IN FINAL WEEKS OF CAMPAIGN

The last days of campaigning are taking place amid a surge in new cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations in battleground states, including North Carolina and Pennsylvania but also Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.

Pennsylvania has averaged 1,500 new cases a day over the past week, a level it has not seen since April, according to a Reuters analysis. North Carolina is averaging 2,000 new cases a day over the past week, its highest level ever. The virus has claimed the lives of more than 221,000 Americans.

Polling shows a majority of voters are disappointed in the way Trump has handled the pandemic, which he has repeatedly said would disappear on its own.

On a call organized by the Biden campaign and Texas Democrats on Wednesday, several Texas Republicans urged fellow conservatives to vote for Biden, citing the coronavirus crisis as well as Biden’s character.

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“This is not a decision I took lightly. I love the GOP, and I love most GOP officials. But I love my country more,” said Jacob Monty, a Republican immigration lawyer who resigned from Trump’s national Hispanic advisory council in 2016.

Biden and Trump are scheduled to meet in their second and final debate on Thursday night, giving the Republican an opportunity to change the trajectory of a race that Biden is leading in national polls.

Biden believes he must win his birth state of Pennsylvania and has visited it more than any other state during the campaign. Trump narrowly won the state over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Trump has gained ground there, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday, which showed the challenger leading by 49 per cent to 45 per cent, slightly narrower than a week earlier.

“If we win Pennsylvania, we win the whole thing,” Trump said on Tuesday at a rally in Erie, in the state’s northwestern corner.

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