LAS VEGAS — President Trump is out to prove, as he did in 2016, that size does matter when it comes to drawing massive crowds to campaign rallies.
Thousands of cheering fans turned out for his freewheeling rallies at every stop as he barnstormed over the past three days from Florida to Georgia to Michigan to Wisconsin and Nevada. It’s an enthusiasm edge over Democratic challenger Joseph R. Biden that Mr. Trump relishes.
“We’ve got the most energy in the history of politics, and he’s got the least,” the president boasted to a rally crowd Saturday in Janesville, Wisconsin.
Indeed, Mr. Biden is lucky to have 100 supporters at one of his events, though he says a smaller crowd is more prudent during a pandemic. He is also banking on a less-is-more master plan that capitalizes on what he sees as America’s Trump fatigue.
Shouting from atop a stage into a parking lot dotted with dozens of honking, socially distanced cars and trucks last week in Miramar, Florida, Mr. Biden led an event with a dystopian sci-fi feel.
“It is a little sad,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “There he is, poor Joe Biden, up on stage with his mask, talking to the two dozen cars, whatever it is, and the visual contrast between a Trump rally, and that is staggering.
“It is staggering because of the enthusiasm gap and staggering because of the total flouting of all the rules during the COVID pandemic.”
As in 2016, Mr. Trump has the crowds but his opponent has the polls.
Mr. Biden has an 8.9-point lead over the president in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls. That is more than Hillary Clinton’s roughly 7-point average lead at the same time four years ago.
The raucous, circuslike atmosphere that defines a Trump rally feels galaxies away from Mr. Biden’s big events, such as the one last week in Florida with about 60 cars.
With 48 hours’ notice, more than 10,000 people showed up for a Tuesday evening Trump rally at a regional airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Thousands parked at a shopping center 5 miles away and took buses to the airfield for the outdoor rally.
“Trump is the original rock ‘n’ roll president,” said Mark Paul Jones, 53, a photographer and musician who has attended 14 Trump rallies since 2016.
Mr. Jones, wearing a Colonial tricorn hat, stood out in the crowd of red MAGA hats, MAGA masks and other Trump apparel that marked the rallygoers as not just supporters but fans.
Despite the huge crowd, Mr. Jones said, the pandemic dented turnout.
“The COVID has changed a lot. I used to get to the rallies 24 hours ahead of time. Now you can come 12 to 15 hours ahead of time,” he said.
The rallies have proved to be the lifeblood of a Trump campaign, coalescing the energy and enthusiasm of a disparate fan base that includes traditional Republicans, blue-collar Democrats and previously disaffected Americans.
“This election is a simple choice. If Biden wins, China wins, all these other countries win. We get ripped off by everybody,” Mr. Trump told the teeming crowd. “If we win, you win, Pennsylvania wins and America wins, very simple. For years, the selfish and corrupt political class betrayed the people of Pennsylvania — you know that — and the people of our country. Career politicians like Joe Biden lied to you.”
Mr. Trump and his boosters say the president showed bigger is better four years ago and that he will do it again.
Critics counter that if crowd size mattered, then Sen. Bernard Sanders would have walked away with the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination — or, for that matter, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas would have been the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
Tim Miller, political director of Republican Voters Against Trump, said it’s important to take into account that Mr. Trump has been holding rallies in deep-red parts of swing states and “even states that should be safe for him like Georgia.”
“These are not the types of places you tend to see candidates at this stage in the campaign,” Mr. Miller said.
“So if you accept the data that Biden is doing better than Hillary among swing voters and that the Democratic base is more fired up, then the same kinds of rallies aren’t enough,” he said. “He’s going to have to juice it much more, and while I don’t think it’s impossible, it’s going to be really tough.”
Mr. Trump, 74, also outhustles his 77-year-old rival on the campaign trail. His five-state swing revved up his base in battlegrounds and targeted areas where he could improve his 2016 tallies, such as Janesville in Wisconsin and Muskegon in Michigan.
Muskegon, a town on the shore of Lake Michigan, is part of a region that is staunchly Republican but wasn’t as pro-Trump in 2016 as would be expected.
His supporters’ high energy and enthusiasm are already paying dividends, Mr. Trump told the thousands of people at a chilly, after-dark rally Saturday.
“We’re leading,” he said. “We’re supposed to be way behind, until Election Day when all the Republicans go and you’re going to have a ‘red wave’ like you’ve never seen before.”
Jeffery Kerr, 47, a Muskegon plumber attending his first Trump rally, echoed a sentiment often heard at Trump events: “I love the man.”
He said the pro-Trump energy in the state was rising.
“We have a lot to lose. We have a country to lose. I believe it when he says we won’t recognize this country if Democrats take office. That is truth to me.”
• Seth McLaughlin reported from Washington.