President Trump’s reelection bid was buoyed Thursday by the announcement of record third-quarter economic growth, with Mr. Trump citing it as proof he would deliver “historic prosperity” in a second term and warning that Democratic rival Joseph R. Biden would impose “punishing lockdowns” if elected.
With just five days until Election Day, Mr. Trump seized on the long-awaited economic report for a needed boost to his struggling campaign, which trails Mr. Biden in national polls. Campaigning in Tampa, Florida, Mr. Trump noted the third-quarter growth of 33.1% was the biggest jump in gross domestic product since the government began keeping records in 1947.
“If you asked me two weeks ago, I’d have taken 12%,” Mr. Trump told supporters at a campaign rally. “We created the greatest economy in history, and now we are doing it again. We’re making the turn.”
The GDP growth followed a record economic contraction of 34.1% in the second quarter as employers laid off tens of millions of workers and businesses shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy hasn’t fully recovered, and Democrats and financial analysts say there are signs of a slowdown as cases of COVID-19 surge in dozens of states.
After steep losses this week, Wall Street rebounded slightly Thursday on the GDP report and a decline in weekly jobless claims. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 139 points, up 0.5%, to close at 26,659.
Another 751,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, the lowest number since March but still historically high.
Mr. Biden, also campaigning in Florida, told supporters in Coconut Creek that he wouldn’t shut down the economy if he wins the presidency.
“I’m not going to shut down the country. But I’m going to shut down the virus,” Mr. Biden said.
The former vice president said Mr. Trump has “given up” on fighting the pandemic and accused the president of holding a “superspreader” event in Tampa.
“He’s doing nothing. Donald Trump has waved the white flag and surrendered to the virus,” Mr. Biden said.
As the race entered the final five days, two polls released Thursday showed Mr. Biden holding a slight lead in Florida. An NBC/Marist survey showed him leading 51% to 47%. Quinnipiac University’s poll showed him leading by 3 percentage points, although that margin was down from 11 points three weeks ago.
“You hold the key,” Mr. Biden told his supporters. “If Florida goes blue, it’s over. On November 3rd, we’re going to unite this country and show the world who we really are.”
Mr. Trump said he will win Florida just as he did in 2016, partly on the strength of rising support from Hispanic American voters.
“Biden’s agenda will devastate the Hispanic American community,” the president said. “According to the poll numbers I’m shown … we are now beating the Democrats for the first time ever with Hispanic Americans. We’re going to win a record share of the Hispanic American vote.”
The NBC/Marist survey showed Mr. Trump with a 6-point lead among Hispanic voters, 52% to 6%. That is a huge shift from 2016, when the president lost Florida Hispanics to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by a margin of 62% to 35%. Mr. Trump still won the state.
A Telemundo poll released Thursday showed Mr. Biden holding a 5-point lead among Hispanic voters in Florida, 48% to 43%. Among Cuban American voters in Florida, however, Mr. Trump holds a big lead, 71% to 23%. Four years ago, Mr. Trump won 54% of the Cuban vote.
In another sign of potential trouble for Mr. Biden, his campaign scheduled a visit to Minnesota on Friday. Trump campaign officials noted that a Democrat hasn’t lost the state since 1972.
Mr. Trump also will campaign in Minnesota on Friday, as well as Michigan and Wisconsin. On Saturday, the president will hold three rallies in Pennsylvania, the second-largest swing state behind Florida. Mr. Trump held three rallies in Pennsylvania on Monday.
Although the president was handed a ready-made closing campaign argument on the economy, Mr. Trump couldn’t resist several lengthy detours in his Tampa speech to attack his opponent. He said Mr. Biden refuses to call the coronavirus “the China virus because China has paid him off. He cannot take on China.”
Referring to allegations of corruption against Mr. Biden and his son Hunter, Mr. Trump acknowledged that some advisers have urged him not to talk about Hunter Biden.
“They say, ‘Talk about your economic success,’” Mr. Trump relayed. “I mean, how many times can I say it?”
The president praised several Fox News hosts for featuring Hunter Biden in their shows the previous night but said there was “nothing at all” in the mainstream media the next day.
Then Mr. Trump turned to Miles Taylor, the former Department of Homeland Security official who revealed himself this week as the “Anonymous” author who has criticized the president. Mr. Trump criticized The New York Times for referring to Mr. Taylor as a “senior administration official.”
“He was a staffer, had nothing to do with the White House,” Mr. Trump said. “There should be major criminal liability for some scum like this. He should be prosecuted. Are you listening to me back in Washington? He should be prosecuted, along with the New York Times.”
Noting that Mr. Taylor now works for Google and is a CNN contributor, Mr. Trump said, “I think Google should fire him very quickly because bad things are going to happen to him.”
Then the president returned to the economy.
“Weekly jobless claims — this is boring, but it’s good — just hit a seven-month low,” Mr. Trump told the crowd. “We’re going to win this election so big, you watch. Thanks to our policies, America is experiencing the fastest and biggest recovery. We have the best recovery anywhere in the world.”
The outdoor rally was held in 88-degree heat. Several supporters collapsed and required medical attention. Firefighters sprayed water from a firetruck into the air over the thousands of attendees in an effort to keep them cool.
At his competing event on the Atlantic Coast, a drive-in rally where supporters honked car horns in approval, Mr. Biden attacked the president for not caring about low-wage workers.
“Why should you pay more taxes than Donald Trump pays? He games the system at your expense,” said Mr. Biden, referring to a report that the president paid only $750 in personal income taxes for two years. Mr. Trump has said he prepaid millions of dollars in taxes in certain years.
Mr. Biden said the president “is on track to be the first president since Herbert Hoover to leave office with fewer jobs than when he came into office” despite the strong third-quarter GDP performance.
“This report underscores three inescapable truths about Donald Trump’s economy: We are in a deep hole and President Trump’s failure to act has meant that Q3 growth wasn’t nearly enough to get us out of; the recovery is slowing if not stalling; and the recovery that is happening is helping those at the top, but leaving tens of millions of working families and small businesses behind,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “President Trump still has no plan to get our country through this crisis and move us forward.”
Josh Lipsky of the Atlantic Council, who is a former official at the International Monetary Fund, said the GDP report was good, but he also called it “old news.”
“The numbers reflect the rebound over the summer as the U.S. emerged from lockdown and consumers spent stimulus funds,” he said. “But with COVID cases rising in the fall combined with Washington’s failure to pass more relief, there are already signs the economy is stalling again in [the fourth quarter]. The U.S. is now on pace for at least a -4% contraction in 2020, making it the worst year for GDP growth since World War II.”
Trump ally Alfredo Ortiz, president and CEO of the Job Creators Network, noted that businesses created a record 11.2 million jobs in the past five months. He said Mr. Biden would reverse the recovery.
“Our small-business members are terrified of his record tax hikes, Green New Deal, $15 minimum wage, and gradual government takeover of our health care system,” Mr. Ortiz said in a statement. “Biden’s left-wing agenda would tank our economy and reverse all the progress we’ve made since the pandemic peaked. We are going to need the largest conservative turnout in history to keep America a capitalist and prosperous society.”