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Trump tries to shore up Florida, Biden targets Michigan as early voting surges

MACON, Ga./DETROIT (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump sought to boost his standing in the battleground state of Florida on Friday by reaching out to seniors, while rival Joe Biden blasted Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on a tour of the swing state of Michigan.

The two men are focusing their campaigns on the closely-fought states that are expected to determine the winner of the Nov. 3 election. After spending the day in Florida, Trump held a rally in Georgia, traditionally a Republican stronghold.

Trump, a Republican, lags in opinion polls and the latest figures from his campaign show he is also behind in fundraising as the race intensifies with 18 days to go before Election Day. Early voting is shattering records, with more than 23 million Americans having already cast ballots.

Trump and the Republican National Committee raised some $247.8 million in September, his campaign manager said on Twitter, well behind the $383 million haul of Biden and the Democratic Party.

At an indoor event with a crowd of seniors in Fort Myers, Florida, Trump expressed some uncharacteristic empathy for those who have lost family members to COVID-19.

“My heart breaks for every grieving family that has lost a precious loved one. I feel their anguish. I mourn their loss. I feel their pain,” said Trump, who recently recovered from his own bout with the disease.

Biden, a Democrat, has shown strength with senior voters, many of whom have faulted Trump for his response to the health crisis. Biden has lambasted Trump for often playing down the seriousness of the crisis, and has knocked the administration for seeking to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

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“If I have the honor of becoming your president, we’ll build on the Affordable Care Act, no matter what they do,” Biden said at an event in Michigan.

Trump again asserted that the country was “rounding the turn” on the outbreak, now in its eighth month, even as the number of U.S. cases crossed 8 million on Thursday, rising by 1 million in less than a month.

“He’ll do anything to distract us from focusing on his failures to deal with this virus to protect the nation,” Biden said. “It’s not disappearing, in fact it’s on the rise again. It’s getting worse, as predicted.”

DEAD HEAT IN FLORIDA, OBAMA TO HIT THE TRAIL

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Trump and Biden in a statistical dead heat in Florida, which is coveted for its 29 electoral votes.

U.S. presidential elections are determined by electoral votes, allotted to U.S. states and territories based largely on their populations, rather than a tally of the popular vote nationwide. Michigan and Georgia each have 16 electoral votes.

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Biden’s campaign said former President Barack Obama would travel to Philadelphia next week to campaign on his former vice president’s behalf.

At a rally in Ocala, Florida, Trump played down Obama’s potential impact.

“Oh, I got an emergency call today. They say, ‘Sir, I’m sorry to tell you, but President Obama is going to start campaigning for Sleepy Joe.’ I said, ‘so what’s the problem with that’ … I said, ‘you know, he campaigned harder than Hillary last time, so why do we care?’” Trump said.

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Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

At a rally in Macon, Georgia, Trump relished the crowd’s chant that Biden’s family should be sent to jail. “Lock up the Bidens. Lock up Hillary!” Trump said, echoing a theme from his rallies four years ago. The president quipped that he might have to leave the country if he loses.

Biden completed his campaign day with an evening get-out-the-vote rally in Detroit, where he criticized Trump for his actions while sick with COVID-19.

“The longer Donald Trump is president, the more reckless he gets,” Biden said.

Biden tested negative for the coronavirus on Friday, his campaign said. His running mate Kamala Harris is not traveling for a few days after one of her aides tested positive.

Biden told reporters he was not worried about catching the disease. Biden regularly wears a mask, in line with public health guidelines to prevent the virus’s spread. Trump does not.

A record 23 million Americans have already voted, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, including 2.2 million in Florida. About 136.6 million people in total voted in the 2016 election.

Early voting began in Louisiana on Friday, following record turnout this week in the competitive states of Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.

The candidates returned to the trail after dueling town hall events replaced a presidential debate that was canceled after Trump contracted the virus.

Biden won the TV ratings battle between the two events, according to Nielsen ratings data.

Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Simon Lewis; Writing by Joseph Ax, James Oliphant and Jeff Mason; Editing by Scott Malone and Sonya Hepinstall

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