- The Washington Times - Monday, August 17, 2020

President Trump flew to Midwestern battlegrounds Monday to trumpet the pre-pandemic economy and paint an apocalyptic picture of what would happen if he loses on Election Day, as polls showed a narrowing race with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden ahead at the beginning of a virtual Democratic National Convention.

Mr. Trump is touting a gradual recovery after the pandemic threw millions of people out of work, sideswiped college and professional sports, and put mom-and-pop shops on the brink of collapse. The president is promising a vaccine and better days ahead as the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. surpasses 170,000.

But his choice of venue was the point: Mr. Trump showed his face in swing-state Wisconsin while Mr. Biden and other Democrats courted voters far away from their planned host city of Milwaukee.

“Joe Biden has no enthusiasm, and you don’t win without enthusiasm,” Mr. Trump said in Oshkosh.

In a one-day sprint, the president regaled supporters across three locations in Wisconsin and Minnesota with his greatest economic hits, including restarting iron mines and rewriting trade deals, in an effort to remind critical Midwestern voters of good times before the pandemic as Democrats kicked off online festivities.

“We built the greatest economy in the world, and now I have to do it again,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s God testing me.”

Mr. Trump plans to rebut Democrats and highlight his hard-line immigration policies in a Western battleground, Arizona, on Tuesday before capping the week in Mr. Biden’s birth state, Pennsylvania, ahead of the candidate’s prime-time speech Thursday to accept the Democratic nomination.

The president contrasted the Democrats’ recorded speeches with his own, which will be delivered live from the White House on Aug. 27.

“Who wants to listen to Michelle Obama do a taped speech?” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump has consistently trailed in national polls, though a new poll of registered voters from CNN shows the president gaining ground on Mr. Biden.

Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump by 4 points, 50% to 46%, in the national survey conducted Aug. 12-15 by SSRS for CNN. The former vice president has lost significant ground since June, when he led Mr. Trump by 14 points, 55% to 41%, in that survey.

The president and Mr. Biden are also statistically tied across 15 battleground states with Mr. Biden edging Mr. Trump, 49% to 48%. Mr. Trump won 10 of the 15 states CNN has deemed battleground territory this year.

Even Mr. Trump seemed surprised by the numbers.

“Frankly, their pollster is much better than Fox,” Mr. Trump said.

From an airport hangar in Mankato, Minnesota, Mr. Trump characterized Mr. Biden as a leftist extremist who will be outfoxed by foreign strongmen, will allow the “mob” to take over U.S. cities and will turn the country into a replica of Venezuela.

“Biden is just a Trojan horse for socialism,” Mr. Trump said.

He said the U.S. was hit unfairly by the coronavirus that began in China and blanketed the world, forcing Americans into a patchwork of lockdowns and upending the presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump said the “China plague will fade,” though he didn’t say how. He said he would support new stimulus checks for Americans and money to bolster the U.S. Postal Service after complaints about slow mail delivery.

“We want to strengthen the post office, make it good,” Mr. Trump said.

He said his administration’s efforts to mitigate the pandemic and shield the vulnerable are paying off, even as he weathers blistering criticism over the federal response.

The U.S. accounts for more than one-fifth of global COVID-19 deaths despite having 4.25% of the world’s population.

Though Mr. Trump urges schools to open across the board, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said Monday that it will transition all students to online learning Wednesday after finding over 130 cases of COVID-19 just one week into the fall semester.

Wins in North Carolina, the Rust Belt and the Upper Midwest were critical for Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016.

He snatched Wisconsin from Democrats by less than 1 percentage point, yet Hillary Clinton won Minnesota by about 45,000 votes.

“One more speech, I would have won,” Mr. Trump said in Mankato.

Mr. Trump hopes to take Minnesota this time and broaden the map elsewhere, including New Mexico and long-shots New Jersey and Virginia. Mr. Biden hopes to lock down states that voted for Mrs. Clinton in 2016 and swipe electoral-vote-rich states including Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The events Monday had the feel of rallies Mr. Trump held before the pandemic, with attacks on Mrs. Clinton and a loud soundtrack featuring the Village People.

Democrats faulted Mr. Trump for gathering supporters during a respiratory pandemic.

“For months, Trump has claimed the virus would disappear and ignored the experts, and his political event in Wisconsin today shows Trump still isn’t taking this seriously,” Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Lily Adams said. “This campaign photo-op is a desperate attempt to distract from the Democratic convention, which will highlight stories of hardworking Americans hurt by Trump’s horrible coronavirus response.”

The president wanted to visit Iowa, too, to survey widespread damage from a high-wind derecho that struck a week ago, but his planners couldn’t fit it into his schedule.

Mr. Trump did stop for a rally-type speech to supporters on the tarmac at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where he blasted state and local leaders for riots in Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd. He greeted business owners whose properties had been set ablaze.

The president said there would be no mention of these “innocent victims” during DNC festivities.

“All they wanted was to live the American dream,” Mr. Trump said. “Their dreams were burned to the ground.”

⦁ Ryan Lovelace contributed to this report.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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