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With just days to go, Trump bets big on Pennsylvania

17 rallies in 4 days: Trump launches a closing blitz in the states that delivered him the presidency in 2016.

President Trump arrives at a rally on October 31 in Newtown, Pennsylvania.
Mark Makela/Getty Images

With just three days to go until Election Day, President Donald Trump is going all in on Pennsylvania, a state that could be crucial to his chances of winning reelection, with a hectic itinerary of rapid-fire campaign rallies.

The president is set to spend his whole day in Pennsylvania Saturday, and to return Sunday. In the next two days he’ll also visit North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and a slew of Midwestern swing states for a total of 17 rallies.

Despite record numbers of new coronavirus cases in the US — nearly 99,000 on Friday alone — many of those rallies have been jam-packed, with only sporadic mask-wearing and nonexistent social distancing. This has led to concern that the rallies have, and will, lead to new infections; a new study suggests that rallies held throughout the summer and early fall led to at least 30,000 cases and an estimated 700 deaths.

The one recent rally conducted in a safer manner — a Friday campaign stop in Rochester, Minnesota, where Democratic Gov. Tim Walz required crowds to socially distance — ended up being far shorter than the usual Trump event, less than half an hour in total.

The dangers of the president’s rallies aside, Trump has used his final campaign events to make a scattered and grievance-ridden closing message.

In them, the president has held forth on topics ranging from conspiracy theories about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden — “the biggest story anywhere in the world” — to his own tax records, which were obtained by the New York Times last month.

The rallies have also been exceptionally dishonest, even by Trump standards. According to CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale, the rallies have repeatedly featured lies on seven topics, including falsehoods about the state of the coronavirus pandemic and incorrect claims about voter fraud.

Beyond Trump’s aggrieved closing pitch, though, the frantic pace of campaign events underscores the electoral fix Trump has found himself in with just days to go. As things stand, most reputable polling shows Trump trailing Biden in must-win swing states — and nationally.

If voting patterns reflect current polling, the president’s path to victory has narrowed dramatically. To eke out an Electoral College victory, Trump won’t just have to win the states where he trails Biden by a few points. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop explained this week, Trump would also have to pick up electoral votes in states where polling currently shows him down between 5 and 9 percentage points.

Of those states, Pennsylvania — with its 20 electoral votes — is where polling shows Biden and Trump to be the closest. Winning new support in the next few days there will be an uphill battle for Trump, but his five rallies suggest his campaign believes it is a battle the president can win.

Trump is on defense as Biden presses his advantage

Like Trump, Biden is spending the final days before the election working to shore up support in key states. Along with former President Barack Obama, Biden spent Saturday in Michigan, which until 2016 was part of the party’s “blue wall” in the Electoral College, before then-nominee Hillary Clinton lost the state by just three-tenths of a percent.

But the Biden campaign is also spending time trying to secure states that, until recently, were seen as reliably Republican.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, for example, made a swing through Texas Friday, where polls show a close race. And on Monday, Obama will travel to Georgia, which last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 1992.

Not only does Georgia have 16 electoral votes on offer, but the state is home to two important Senate races this cycle. Republican incumbent David Perdue is facing Jon Ossoff for a full six-year term, while Republicans Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins, as well as Democrat Raphael Warnock, lead the race in a special election to fill retired Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat.

Polls in Georgia have shown a presidential race nearly as tight as in Texas, and Biden currently holds a narrow lead in the FiveThirtyEight polling average.

Neither state is central to Biden’s path to an Electoral College win, however. Unlike Trump, he has a broad path that includes possible wins in Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina, among others, all of which backed Trump in 2016.

And with three days to go, the former vice president has chosen to emphasize a simple message: “I believe this election is about who we are as a nation, what we believe, and maybe most importantly, who we want to be,” Biden told Georgia voters this week. “It’s about our essence; it’s about what makes us Americans. It’s that fundamental.”

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