WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden rallied supporters in the closely contested state of Florida on Thursday five days before the US elections, visiting the same city hours apart and putting on full display their contrasting approaches to the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.

Opinion polls ahead of the Nov 3 elections show Biden with a significant edge nationally, but with a tighter lead in the battleground states that play a decisive role in the final result.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed Trump had essentially moved into a tie with Biden in Florida, with 49 percent saying they would vote for Biden and 47 percent for the president.

With its 29 electoral votes, the state is a major prize in next Tuesday’s election. Trump’s victory in Florida in 2016 was key to his surprise election win.

Trump planned an outdoor rally in Tampa. Thousands of people have crowded together at recent rallies held by the president, many eschewing masks despite public health recommendations.

Biden, in contrast, planned to hold a drive-in rally where attendees will remain in their cars. He will host a similar event earlier in the day in Broward County north of Miami.

In the days leading up to the election, the pandemic that has upended life across the United States this year, killing more than 227,000 people and causing millions of job losses, is roaring back.

Trump has repeatedly dismissed the threat of the pandemic, saying this week his opponents and the news media will cease paying attention to it right after the election, even as leaders in Europe scramble to contain a second wave and public health experts predict a grim winter in the United States.

Trump’s own White House coronavirus task force has warned of a persistent and broad spread of Covid-19 in the western half of the United States, including in a number of states that will play an important role in the election.

“We are on a very difficult trajectory. We’re going in the wrong direction,” Dr Anthony Fauci, task force member and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNBC on Wednesday night.

He called for “aggressive mitigation” strategies.

The Republican president hailed figures released on Thursday that showed the US economy grew at an unrivalled pace of 33 percent in the third quarter due to a huge federal pandemic relief programme.

“So glad this great GDP number came out before November 3rd,” Trump wrote in a tweet. However, it is doubtful whether economic data this close to election day can influence the outcome.

Biden can point out that US output remains below its level in the fourth quarter of 2019, before the pandemic hit.

In the Reuters/Ipsos poll in Florida, 48 percent of likely voters said Biden would be better at handling the pandemic, while 42 percent said Trump would be better. Some 52 percent said Trump would be better at managing the economy, against 41 percent for Biden.

Following his own bout with Covid-19, the president has had a hectic campaign schedule, holding as many as three rallies a day in different states, while Biden has taken a more measured tack, spending two days this week close to his home base of Delaware.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2020