New early voting data showed Democrats failing to hit their mark in several battleground states, giving Trump campaign officials more reasons for optimism Tuesday as President Trump rallied voters in key Midwestern states and Democrat Joseph R. Biden made a play for traditionally red Georgia.
In Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Arizona, Democrats are falling short of their target of 70% of early votes cast either in person or by mail. That is the lead they hoped to build up to stave off an expected higher Republican turnout on Election Day.
“The Democrats have not opened up a large enough lead in the early vote totals, and they know it,” said Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh. “They have now realized that they put too many eggs in the vote-by-mail basket, and they’re not hitting the marks they need.”
Campaigning in battleground Michigan, which does not track partisan affiliation of early voting, Mr. Trump said he has pulled ahead by 3 percentage points. He apparently was referring to internal campaign polling. Mr. Biden leads by an average of 9 points in public polls.
“We’re going to have a great red wave,” said Mr. Trump, who also had campaign stops Tuesday in Wisconsin and Nebraska. “It’s happening in Florida. Right now, we’re leading almost everywhere. I’ve got to say, I’m working my ass off.”
Mr. Biden, campaigning in Georgia, told supporters that it’s “‘go’ time.”
“Please vote. Help get out the vote,” Mr. Biden said at a rally in Atlanta. “If you are voting by mail, return your ballot as soon as possible and make sure everyone you know does the same.”
Mr. Biden urged voters in Georgia to remember the late Rep. John Lewis.
“The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society,” said Mr. Biden, referencing words of the civil rights icon. “Use it. You have the power to win this election.”
First lady Melania Trump also made her campaign solo debut. She told an audience in Pennsylvania that her husband was taking a responsible approach to the COVID-19 pandemic while Democrats were focused on “a sham impeachment.” She said Mr. Biden’s “socialist agenda” would destroy the economic progress of the past four years under Mr. Trump.
The president, mindful of the early voting trends, surveyed supporters at his rally in Lansing, Michigan. Most of them indicated that they intend to vote in person on Election Day.
That is how Mr. Trump and his campaign advisers are hoping the election plays out to erase Mr. Biden’s presumed lead among the more than 67 million votes cast so far.
In Florida, Democrats’ lead in early voting over Republicans has dwindled from 19 percentage points when voting began Oct. 19 to less than 5 percentage points Tuesday, 41.8% to 37.1%, according to the United States Elections Project. Another 20% of early voters specified no party affiliation.
In Iowa, Democrats’ edge over Republicans in early voting has fallen to a margin of 49.3% to 31.9%. In North Carolina, Democrats have cast about 39% of the state’s early votes, compared with 30% for Republican voters and 30% by people with no party affiliation.
Pennsylvania’s early vote totals show Democrats nearly reaching the goal of 70%, casting 68.9% of the 1.8 million mail ballots returned so far. Republicans account for 21.3% of the ballots returned, while 9.1% have no party affiliation.
Rep. Mike Kelly, a Pennsylvania Republican who speaks on behalf of the Trump campaign, said the Biden team shouldn’t count on all those votes by registered Democrats. He said many blue-collar Democrats in his state are voting for Mr. Trump.
“There are a tremendous number of generational Democrats who have decided that their party left them a long time ago,” Mr. Kelly said. “There’s some kind of a misconception throughout the country right now that somehow, every Democrat who mailed in their ballot was a vote for Joe Biden. I think that is way off the mark.”
Although Mr. Trump and his campaign advisers sound optimistic about the trends in early voting, former Trump campaign manger Corey Lewandowski said they won’t know anything for certain until Election Day. He said some of the better-than-expected early voting by Republicans could translate into fewer Republican voters on Nov. 3.
“We have enormous amounts of early voting,” Mr. Lewandowski said on Fox News. “Traditionally, Republicans vote on Election Day. We’re not sure yet if all of our voters are turning out early and we’re going to have a massive Election Day push, or [whether] some of those are being consumed right now. No one knows the answer.”
The Texas Democratic Party said 860,000 people younger than 29 had cast ballots in the state and nearly half of those had never before participated in a general election.
“Young voters will decide this election,” said Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the records being broken every single day from young voters making their voices heard. For Texas Democrats to win up and down the ballot, we need every youth voter to turn out to the polls.”
In Georgia, a state that Mr. Trump won in 2016 by about 5 percentage points, Mr. Biden tried to put the president on the defensive. The race there is essentially tied in public polls, and the Democrat showed he is finishing it the same way he started: by framing his showdown with Mr. Trump as a “battle for the soul of the nation.”
“Time and again throughout our history, we have seen charlatans, con men, phony populists who sought to play on our fears, appeal to our worst appetites, and pick at the oldest scabs we have for their own political gain,” Mr. Biden said. “Pope Francis warns us against this phony populism that appeals to ‘the basest and the most selfish instincts.’”
Mr. Biden said he, in contrast, is running to “unite this nation and to heal this nation.”
“God and history have called us to this moment and this mission,” he said. “With our voices and our votes, we must free us from the forces of darkness, the forces of division and the forces of yesterday, and the forces that pull us apart hold us down and hold us back.”
David Johnson, a Georgia-based Republican Party strategist, said Mr. Biden has been “very smart” to stick with the same basic message throughout the campaign.
“He realizes this is a referendum on Trump. And when I say ‘a referendum on Trump,’ it is not Trump’s policies. It is Trump’s personality,” Mr. Johnson said. “If you took away Trump from the race and put a generic Republican with Trump’s policies in, it wouldn’t even be a race. The Republican would be beating Biden. The problem is that it all comes down to Trump’s personality. That is what is driving voters to Biden right now, and Biden’s people know that.”
In Warm Springs, the retreat of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Biden said he won’t “wave the white flag of surrender” in the battle against COVID-19. He said the U.S. needs a president “who cares less about his TV ratings and more about the American people.”
“I’m ready to act. We know what to do. And starting on Day One of my presidency, we will do it,” he said.
Mrs. Trump, at a campaign stop in Atglen, Pennsylvania, said Democrats “cared more about removing our elected president” through impeachment than they cared about the public health crisis last winter.
“This sham was led by opposition, and their display of hatred is on display to this day,” the first lady said. “Children watching and learning about politics in our country deserved a better display of political responsibility and respect for our sacred institutions.”
She said Democrats “have chosen to put their own agendas ahead of the American people’s well-being. Instead, they attempt to create a divide — a divide on something that should be nonpartisan and noncontroversial. A divide that causes confusion and fear instead of hope and security. That is not leadership.”
The first lady tested positive for COVID-19 in early October, as did Mr. Trump and their son, Barron. She thanked the audience “for all the love and support you gave us.”
“We are all feeling so much better now thanks to healthy living and some of the amazing therapeutic options available in our country,” Mrs. Trump said. “Like many of you, I have experienced the firsthand effects of COVID-19, not only as a patient but as a worried mother and wife. I know there are many people who have lost loved ones or know people who have been forever impacted by this silent enemy. My family’s thoughts and prayers are with all of you through this difficult time.”
She said, “We all know the American spirit is stronger than this virus. We have proven that we can and will overcome this unexpected challenge. This administration chooses to keep moving forward during this pandemic, not backward.”
• David Sherfinski contributed to this report.