U.S. President Donald Trump will try to put his bout with COVID-19 behind him when he returns to the campaign trail on Monday, beginning a three-week sprint to the Nov. 3 election with a rally in the battleground state of Florida.
The event at an airport in Sanford, Fla., will be Trump’s first campaign rally since he disclosed on Oct. 2 that he tested positive for COVID-19. Trump, who spent three nights in the hospital for treatment, said on Sunday he had fully recovered and was no longer infectious, but he did not say directly whether he had tested negative for the coronavirus.
The Republican president, 74, is seeking to change the dynamics of a race that national opinion polls and some state polls show he is losing to Democratic challenger Joe Biden, 77.
For months, Trump had worked furiously to shift public attention away from the virus and his handling of the pandemic, which has infected nearly 7.7 million people in the United States, killed more than 214,000 and put millions out of work.
His own illness has put the spotlight squarely on his coronavirus response during the closing stretch of the race.
In a sign of fresh optimism, Biden heads on Monday to Ohio, a state Trump won by eight percentage points in 2016 and almost certainly must carry again to win. It is Biden’s second campaign trip in as many weeks to Ohio, which was once thought out of reach but where polls now show a tight race.
Trump’s rally in Florida, and planned rallies in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Iowa on Wednesday and North Carolina on Thursday, will be watched closely to see whether the president has reshaped his campaign approach since contracting the virus.
Critics fault him for failing to encourage supporters at campaign events, and even White House staff, to wear protective masks and abide by physical-distancing guidelines. At least 11 close Trump aides have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Standing alone on a White House balcony on Saturday, a maskless Trump urged hundreds of largely Black and Latino supporters to help get out the vote. Most in the crowd wore masks but ignored physical-distancing guidelines.
Biden, who has said it is irresponsible for any candidate to hold events where attendees are not wearing masks or engaging in physical distancing, lashed out at the president’s approach.
“President Trump comes to Sanford today bringing nothing but reckless behaviour, divisive rhetoric and fear mongering,” Biden, the Democratic former vice-president said in a statement.
Florida up for grabs
Trump told Fox News in an interview on Sunday that he felt good and pointed to his physician’s memo from Saturday saying he had taken a test showing he was no longer infectious.
“I passed the highest test, the highest standards, and I’m in great shape,” Trump told Sunday Morning Futures.
Trump also said, without producing evidence, that he was now immune, an assertion that drew a flag from Twitter for violating the social media platform’s rules about misleading information related to COVID-19.
The scientific research has been inconclusive on how long people who have recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies and are protected from a second infection.
Most recent polls in Florida, where a Trump loss would dramatically narrow his path to re-election, show Biden with a small lead. Trump won Florida over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 by just 1.2 percentage points, which helped propel him to the White House.
On his visit to Ohio, Biden will deliver a speech in Toledo meant to undermine what polls show is Trump’s last greatest strength, the view among some voters that the former real estate entrepreneur is better on handling the economy.
Biden also will attend a get-out-the-vote event in Cincinnati, his campaign said.
Trump has pulled back his advertising in Ohio in recent days, while Biden has increased his, another sign of the opportunity he and his fellow Democrats see to make more states competitive than they initially imagined.