WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is being forced to play Electoral College defense with a trip to Iowa, a state he won handily in 2016 but where Democrat Joe Biden is making a late push before the Nov. 3 vote.
Trump's heavy travel this week, including a rally Wednesday in Des Moines, reflects his uphill climb three weeks before the election. He has already visited Pennsylvania and Florida, will head to another state, North Carolina, he can’t win without and plans stops in Iowa and Georgia, which he once thought were in his grasp but where recent polling shows a competitive race.
In a virtual address to the Economic Clubs of New York, Florida, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Pittsburgh and Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the president said the election was a choice between “a socialist nightmare and the American dream."
His trip to Iowa comes as the state this week surpassed 100,000 coronavirus cases and has seen a recent surge in hospitalizations. Biden has tried to make Trump's handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 215,000 Americans, the central issue of the election.
“But President Trump isn’t coming to the Hawkeye State to offer words of comfort to those suffering, or a helping hand to the Iowans who are out of a job, or an actual plan to get the virus under control," Biden said in a statement. “Instead, he’s here to spread more lies about the pandemic and distract from his record of failure."
Officials at the Des Moines airport, where Trump's rally will be held in a cargo hangar, have been told to plan for up to 10,000 people. A public health emergency declared by Gov. Kim Reynolds, R-Iowa, in March remains in place and requires that organizers of mass gatherings “must ensure at least 6 feet of physical distance between each group or individual attending alone." Reynolds, a Trump ally, was expected to appear at the event.
Trump has resumed a breakneck schedule this week after being sidelined from campaigning when he was diagnosed with the coronavirus. He held rallies in Florida and Pennsylvania on Monday and Tuesday and planned to be in North Carolina on Thursday. Trump has appeared hale in his public appearances since reemerging from quarantine, though at moments during his address to the economic clubs on Wednesday his voice sounded raspy.
The president said he was baffled how some in business could even consider Biden, and he played up his commitment to keeping taxes low and deregulating industry.
Biden has traveled at a more aggressive clip in the past week, visiting Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Pennsylvania. The former vice president isn’t introducing new themes in his pitch that he’s a steady alternative to Trump. Biden and his aides believe the president’s whipsawing campaign since his COVID-19 diagnosis proves the core of Biden’s case.
The candidates will have dueling town halls Thursday night on network television — Trump's in Miami and sponsored by NBC News, Biden's in Philadelphia and on ABC. Debate organizers last week changed their original plan for a town hall debate that night to a virtual event after Trump's coronavirus diagnosis, but the president backed out. Biden quickly signed on to his own town hall; Trump's campaign on Wednesday announced its competing event.
Biden did not have any public campaign events scheduled Wednesday, an unusual move just 20 days before the election, after visiting Florida on Tuesday to court older voters. He was looking to deliver a knockout blow in a state Trump needs to win while trying to woo a group whose support for the Republican president has slipped.
Trump was in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, arguably the most important state on the electoral map, unleashing fierce attacks on Biden’s fitness for office in his opponent’s backyard.
Biden’s campaign believes it can win the White House without Florida’s 29 electoral votes, but it wants to lock up the state to pad a margin of victory over Trump, who has questioned the legitimacy of an election where many people will cast mail-in ballots during the pandemic. Biden has vowed to win Pennsylvania, but if he falls short, his path to victory narrows substantially.
The Trump campaign has grown increasingly worried about states he won handily four years ago, including Ohio, Iowa and, to a lesser extent, Texas. He all but must win at least one of the three Great Lakes states he flipped red in 2016.
But facing stubborn deficits in Wisconsin and Michigan, the president has placed renewed focus on Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes.
Trump will have to run up his margins in the state's rural areas to win, as his prospects have slipped since 2016 in places like vote-rich suburban Philadelphia, where he underperformed by past Republican measures.
Pitt reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Wilmington, Delaware, and Aamer Madhani in Chicago contributed to this report.