Trump heads to battleground Pennsylvania, a day before Obama stumps for Biden

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U.S. President Donald Trump heads to the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, a day before former President Barack Obama visits the state to tout his former No. 2 and Trump’s Democratic rival in the Nov. 3 election, Joe Biden.

Early voting opened in another competitive state, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, while more than 34 million early ballots have been cast nationwide two weeks before voting ends on Election Day.

National opinion polls show Biden, the former vice president, holding a wide lead on Republican Trump, though the contest is closer in swing states that decide elections including Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Trump has gained some ground on Biden in Pennsylvania, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday, which showed the challenger leading by 49% to 45%, slightly narrower than a week earlier.

Trump was due to hold a rally in Erie, in Pennsylvania’s northwest corner, at 7 p.m. Eastern Time (2300 GMT).

Biden has no events planned for Tuesday.

But underscoring the importance of the “Rust Belt” state, Obama was due to campaign for Biden at a “drive-in car rally” event on Wednesday in a Pennsylvania location yet to be announced. It will be Obama’s first in-person campaign event for Biden, who served with him for eight years.

Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 people in the United States and thrown millions out of work, has taken a toll on his re-election prospects.

Despite rising cases of the highly contagious disease, which landed Trump in hospital for three nights, he has resumed a heavy schedule of campaign travel including rallies where his supporters pack together tightly, many not wearing masks.

Trump’s path to victory is narrowing in the state-by-state race that determines who will move into the White House on Jan. 20, 2021.

Reuters/Ipsos polling shows Trump trailing in Wisconsin and Michigan, the two other Rust Belt states that he narrowly carried four years ago. Trump also trails in Arizona and the two are effectively tied in Florida and North Carolina.

More than 34 million votes have been cast, according to the University of Florida’s U.S. Elections Project, more than a fifth of the total vote in the last presidential contest four years ago.

Early returns show registered Democrats outpacing Republicans in most states that track party affiliation. Trump has repeatedly characterized absentee voting as unreliable, though experts say it is as secure as any other method.

His campaign and the Republican Party have sought, with mixed success, to limit voting by mail in states that expanded it in response to fears of spreading COVID-19 at crowded polling places.

In Pennsylvania, his campaign has failed to prevent officials from setting up ballot drop boxes, a popular option in many other states.

VOTERS LINE UP IN WISCONSIN

Early in-person voting began in Wisconsin, Utah and Hawaii on Tuesday.

Wisconsin voters bundled up and braved temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 degree Celsius), to stand in line at over-subscribed polling locations in such cities as Milwaukee, where people waited about an hour, according to videos posted by media outlets.

“We’re holding our breath, and I’m concerned about lines at early voting places,” said Jay Heck, executive director of the nonpartisan voting rights group Common Cause in Wisconsin. “Voting does seem to be pretty robust … Every area – red counties and blue – there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm,” he said in a reference to counties that lean toward either of the parties.

Trump and Biden will face off in a final televised debate on Thursday, their second such matchup after Trump backed out of last week’s planned appearance over a disagreement about the virtual format following his COVID-19 infection.

Organizers said on Monday a candidate’s microphone would be muted to ensure his rival had a chance to speak for two minutes at the outset of every 15-minute debate segment – an attempt to head off the interruptions that marred the first matchup.

Trump’s campaign objected to the rule change but said he would participate.

On Tuesday, Trump repeated his complaint the debate will not focus on foreign policy, an area where his campaign believes he holds an advantage because of Biden’s record in the Obama administration.

“We’re talking about things that are not foreign policy. And frankly, it was a change that they made that was far bigger than the mute button,” he told Fox News.

The Biden campaign said Trump wants to center the debate on foreign affairs to distract from discussing his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

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