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Focus on Battleground States  10/26 06:29

   President Donald Trump plans to intensify an already breakneck travel 
schedule in the final full week of the presidential campaign, overlooking a 
surge of coronavirus cases in the U.S. and a fresh outbreak in his own White 
House.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump plans to intensify an already 
breakneck travel schedule in the final full week of the presidential campaign, 
overlooking a surge of coronavirus cases in the U.S. and a fresh outbreak in 
his own White House.

   Trump is expected to hit nearly a dozen states in his last-ditch effort to 
recover ground from Democrat Joe Biden, including Sunday's trip to Maine and 
Tuesday's to Nebraska. Both states award electoral votes by congressional 
district and could be crucial in a tight election. He will hold 11 rallies in 
the final 48 hours alone.

   Biden, too, plans to pick up his travel schedule, aiming to hit the six 
battleground states the campaign sees as key to his chances, some with socially 
distanced in-person events and others with virtual events. On Tuesday the 
former vice president is traveling to Georgia, a state that hasn't voted for a 
Democratic presidential candidate in more than a quarter-century but where 
polls show a tight race.

   The final week of the campaign is colliding with deepening concerns about a 
public health crisis in the U.S. Trump is eager for voters to focus on almost 
anything else, worried that he will lose if the election becomes a referendum 
on his handling of the pandemic. Biden is working to ensure the race is just 
that, hitting Trump on the virus and presenting himself as a safer, more stable 
alternative.

   The stakes were clear this weekend as the White House became the locus for a 
second outbreak of the virus in a month. Several close aides to Vice President 
Mike Pence tested positive for the virus, including his chief of staff, Marc 
Short. Pence, though, was insistent on maintaining his aggressive political 
calendar, even though he was deemed a "close contact" of his adviser, claiming 
the privileges of being an "essential employee."

   The latest outbreak has served as a potent metaphor for the divergent 
approaches the Trump and Biden campaigns have taken to the virus. On Sunday, 
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said that "we're not going to control 
the pandemic" and the focus should be on containment and treatment. Trump aims 
to pack thousands of people, most without face coverings, across some of the 
upper Midwestern states bearing the brunt of the surge.

   "We want normal life to resume," Trump said Sunday. "We just want normal 
life."

   Meadows, pressed to explain why the pandemic cannot be reined in, said, 
"Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu." He told CNN's "State of 
the Union" that the government was focused on getting effective therapeutics 
and vaccines to market.

   Biden, in a statement, said Meadows' comments continued with the Trump 
administration waving "the white flag of defeat" in the face of the virus.

   Biden's team argues the coronavirus is likely to blot out any other issues 
that might come up in the final days of the campaign -- including Biden's 
recent debate-stage comment in which he affirmed he'd transition away from oil, 
later walked back as a transition away from federal subsidies. That strategy 
appeared to pay off as the outbreak in Pence's staff refocused the national 
conversation once again on the pandemic.

   Trump and his team, meanwhile, have struggled to settle on a closing 
message, with the undisciplined candidate increasingly trusting his gut over 
his advisers. He's grasped for dirt on his Democratic rival and used 
apocalyptic terms to describe a Biden presidency, but Biden has thus far proven 
more resilient to such attacks than Trump's 2016 rival.

   "You can certainly expect that (Biden) will focus on COVID as it continues 
to, unfortunately, rise all across the country," Biden deputy campaign manager 
Kate Bedingfield said in an interview. "It's it is disrupting people's lives 
and people are looking for a leader to put in place plans to get it under 
control."

   With more than a third of the expected ballots in the election already cast, 
it may become increasingly challenging for Trump and Biden to reshape the 
contours of the race. Biden is leading Trump in most national polls and has an 
advantage, though narrower, in many key battlegrounds.

   Biden is also sitting on more campaign cash than Trump and is putting it to 
use, blanketing airwaves with a nearly 2-to-1 advantage over the final two 
weeks. The incessant campaign ads from Biden feature a mix of his aspirational 
message with stinging critiques of Trump's handling of the pandemic.

   It's part of what Josh Schwerin, the senior strategist for Democratic super 
PAC Priorities USA, says has helped Biden gain an advantage.

   "Those dual messages -- continuing to draw a contrast with Trump, but also 
offering that positive aspirational message, giving people a reason to vote for 
Biden and not just against Trump -- continues to be the best way forward. And 
we're seeing it work," he said.

   Indeed, Biden has seen his favorability ratings steadily rise over the 
course of the campaign, despite a barrage of attacks from Republicans, while 
Trump remains underwater in such polls. Democrats have been heartened, too, by 
their lead in the record numbers of early votes that have been cast across a 
number of battleground states --- though they caution that Republicans are more 
likely to turn out on Election Day and certain to make up ground.

   Still, multiple Democrats described the "2016 PTSD" that's keeping them up 
at night a week out from Election Day. In 2016, Hillary Clinton also enjoyed a 
lead in national and some state polls, and Democrats say their complacency then 
doomed their candidate. Now, with the pandemic and record numbers of mail and 
absentee ballots injecting a greater level of uncertainty into the election, 
Democrats are reluctant to let their guard down.

   Biden's campaign will focus in the final week on turning out what they've 
dubbed the "Biden coalition" -- Black and Latino voters, as well as suburban, 
college-educated whites, women and older voters disaffected by Trump.

   "What we see consistently is there aren't a whole lot of undecided voters 
left, and at this stage of the race it's really about turnout. It's about 
educating voters to make sure they know how to vote, and it's about making sure 
that that they turn out," Bedingfield said.

   Biden's campaign has emphasized the need for Democrats to stay engaged even 
as the polls seem to favor their candidate. In a recent memo, Biden campaign 
manager Jen O'Malley Dillon said that "in a number of critical states we are 
functionally tied," and warned supporters that "every indication we have shows 
that this thing is going to come down to the wire."

   Bedingfield says that's a message the campaign will continue to push through 
Nov. 3.

   "One thing that we have been very vocal about is that we do believe the race 
is tighter than a lot of the public polling would suggest," she said. "We are 
constantly working to ensure that that people understand that there is an 
urgency here, and that we can't get complacent."

 
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