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Trump stokes fears of violence if count takes long

President Donald Trump at his campaign rally Monday

President Donald Trump at his campaign rally Monday in Avoca, Pa. Credit: AP / Gene J. Puskar

Keep calm? Trump is carrying on

When President Donald Trump made the choice in March to play down the emerging coronavirus pandemic, his justification was avoiding public panic. Now, with his reelection in the balance, he's decided to inject fear of violence erupting if vote counting in crucial states extends beyond Election Day to tally record numbers of absentee ballots.

Decrying U.S. Supreme Court decisions allowing officials in Pennsylvania and North Carolina to continue accepting and counting mail-in ballots for a few days after Tuesday, Trump told a rally Monday in Scranton, Pennsylvania: "They made a very dangerous situation, and I mean physically dangerous." He didn't spell out where the physical danger might come from, nor why as president he wasn't urging calm. A Monday night tweet from Trump doubled down, saying the court decision will "induce violence in the streets." (Twitter slapped on a warning label to prevent retweets.)

If Pennsylvania ballot counting takes several days — as is expected with 2.4 million mail ballots already in hand as of Monday and potentially 700,000 more en route — "cheating can happen like you have never seen," Trump charged without evidence. Trump also is vowing legal action to try to stop counts of mail-in ballots predicted to favor Joe Biden more than in-person voting.

A top Biden legal adviser, Bob Bauer, shot back: "It’s very telling that President Trump is focused not on his voters but on his lawyers, and his lawyers are not going to win the election for him. We are fully prepared for any legal hijinks of one kind or another."

Trump's prediction or threat about danger — it was vague enough to be read either way — played into rising anxieties about the potential for violence in a polarized nation holding the most bitterly contested election in living memory.

More than 3,600 National Guard troops have been activated in 15 states, according to the Military Times. Some are assisting with cyber defense against interference and working the polls; others are standing by in case of postelection civil unrest. Companies like Target, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue are boarding up their storefronts across the country, as are smaller stores.

Nonscalable fencing was being temporarily installed around the White House perimeter on Monday in advance of potential Election Day protests. After scrapping plans for an election night party at his Washington hotel because of local, crowd-limiting coronavirus regulations, Trump will instead monitor returns from the official residence, where 400 guests are expected to attend a party in the East Room.

Sleepy Don

The president, who likes to taunt his opponent as "Sleepy Joe," sounded far short of perky — to say the least — during his election-morning softball interview on "Fox & Friends." When co-host Brian Kilmeade asked him when he would "declare victory," a groggy Trump, whose call-in was 45 minutes late, said:

"When there is victory ... If there is victory, I think we will have victory. I think the polls are, you know, suppression polls. And I think we will have victory. But only when there is victory. You know, there is no reason to play games. And I think we will have victory."

The last-minute garbles and gaffes didn't start Tuesday morning, though. At his final rally in Michigan the night before, he introduced the rapper known as Lil Pump as "one of the biggest superstars in the world, Little Pimp!"

Courtroom reverses

Trump suffered another pair of legal setbacks Monday. A federal judge rejected another Republican effort to invalidate nearly 127,000 votes in Houston because the ballots were cast at drive-thru polling centers established during the pandemic.

Planning an appeal, former Harris County GOP chairman Jared Woodfill said, "If Harris County goes against Trump in large enough numbers, then we could lose Texas. And if Trump loses Texas, then we lose the national election."

In Nevada, a judge rejected a bid by Trump's campaign and state Republicans to stop the count of mail-in ballots in Democratic-leaning Clark County, which includes Las Vegas. Trump's lawyer took no issue with ballot processing in Nevada's other counties, where Republican registered voters outnumber Democrats.

Both sides in the election say they have thousands of lawyers lined up around the country ready to march into court to make sure ballots get counted or excluded. "I don't care how hard Donald Trump tries, there is nothing, nothing that is going to stop America from voting," Biden said Monday night.

Prepare for overtime

Be patient on election night, advises Newsday's Yancey Roy. Counting returns might take longer than any time in recent political history.

With a record number of absentee and mail-in ballots cast this year and a hodgepodge of laws on when states can begin counting those votes, The Associated Press and the TV networks might not be able to call the 2020 presidential election as quickly as times past.

Though 48 states began processing absentee ballots already, four — including the crucial states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — don’t begin until Election Day.

Janison: It's how democracy works

Presidential threats and rants about fraud, counting, mail, challenges and early victory claims are the most unusual features of 2020 so far. But Trump's noise may in the end be as irrelevant as usual, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Sometimes you just have to wait. Ten elections ago, it took from Nov. 2 until Dec. 4 to declare the winner of a mere State Senate race in Nassau County. Ten years earlier came the much more famous monthlong series of legal battles over who won Florida that led to the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial resolution of Bush v. Gore.

As with other institutions, Trump does not take it on himself to defend or improve the U.S. electoral system, which is mainly in the hands of states. Time after time, he does what he can to raise self-interested doubts about its workings.

If key states' margins prove to be close, the counts will be legitimately complex and suspenseful, particularly because of the changes in turnout and early voting. That’s the system.

States to watch; final polls

The Associated Press lists battleground states to watch Tuesday and their electoral votes: Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Georgia (16), Michigan (16), Arizona (11), Wisconsin (10), Iowa (6) and Nevada (6).

Some final poll numbers: In Florida, Biden is ahead by 5 points in a Quinnipiac survey and 4 points in a Reuters/Ipsos poll. In Pennsylvania, Biden leads by 7 points in a Monmouth University poll and 5 points in an NBC News/Marist survey.

Reuters/Ipsos has Biden up by just 1 point in North Carolina and 2 points in Arizona. NBC/Marist sees Arizona as tied. Biden has an edge of 4 points in Ohio, according to Quinnipiac. If Biden took Ohio, it would be a huge upset.

In nationwide numbers, Biden's lead ranges from 7 points in Reuters/Ipsos to 11 points in the Quinnipiac poll.

Biden pitch to Black voters

Biden, in Pittsburgh, pushed a voting rights message to a mostly Black audience, declaring that Trump believes "only wealthy folks should vote" and describing COVID-19 as a "mass casualty event for Black Americans," The Associated Press reported.

"We’re done with the chaos, we’re done with the tweets, the anger, the hate, the failure, the irresponsibility," said Biden, whose campaign has focused on increasing turnout for Black voters, who could prove to be the difference in several battleground states.

Biden announced an unusual move to campaign on Election Day, saying he would head to Philadelphia and his native Scranton on Tuesday as part of a get-out-the-vote effort. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, will visit Detroit, a heavily Black city in battleground Michigan, and both of their spouses will hit the road too. Trump, barring a last-minute change, was not scheduled to travel on Tuesday.

For whom the prez trolls

Before politics, Trump was the celebrity who used his Twitter account to trash and carry on feuds with other celebrities. The crowds who came to his rallies on Monday for his closing arguments got to hear old-time dirty-dishing on boldfaced names in the Biden camp.

About Lady Gaga, who campaigned with Biden on Monday, Trump said: "I could tell you plenty of stories about Lady Gaga. I know a lot of stories about her." He didn't tell any, and it remained unclear if he had one.

Next: "Jon Bon Jovi, every time I see him, he kisses my ass: ‘Oh, Mr. President,’ " Trump said. "But he'll get something out of it, just like everyone is."

Attacking the NBA for its social justice protests, Trump inspired a Pennsylvania crowd to launch a nasty chant at LeBron James. Trump also reached back to the closing days of Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign and a performance by Jay-Z in which the rapper didn't excise "the F-word" from one of his songs.

In his final campaign events, Trump also argued that Biden "hates" the American people.

Dump Fauci? He's almost fireproof

Trump broadly hinted to a late-night rally crowd in Florida early Monday that he was prepared to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci. "Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election," Trump told his supporters, who chanted "Fire Fauci" after the president complained about news media coverage of the pandemic.

But Trump lacks the legal authority to dismiss Fauci because the government's top infectious disease expert is a career employee, not a political appointee, The Washington Post reports. Fauci — who refuses to echo Trump's sketchy claims that the pandemic is near an end — is protected by federal civil-service regulations from being fired or demoted for political reasons.

The process to remove him would need to be initiated by someone in Fauci’s chain of command, such as the director of the National Institutes of Health or the Health and Human Services secretary, and that person would have to provide a just cause for dismissal. Fauci could then fight it through the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Trump has largely frozen out Fauci from exerting influence on the White House coronavirus task force. Biden said that if elected, he would want Fauci at his side. "Elect me, and I’m going to hire Dr. Fauci! And we’re going to fire Donald Trump!" Biden told a rally Monday in Cleveland.

The Trump rally crowd's chants aside, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Fauci approved by 50% of voters and disapproved by 13%, a positive rating Trump has never come close to matching. On the eve of the election, coronavirus cases were rising in every key political battleground state around the country, according to an ABC News analysis.

Election night watch

Follow national and local election night coverage starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Newsday.com and from 9 p.m., video analysis by Laura Figueroa Hernandez, Joye Brown and Yancey Roy.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • The Trump campaign starting in September sought to raise an "army" of poll watchers for "election security," but that recruitment effort appears to have come up short, according to a report by ProPublica. Election officials across the country say they have seen relatively few Republican poll watchers during early voting and that at times, Democratic poll watchers have outnumbered the GOP’s.
  • Veteran Republican elections lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg, who led the GOP legal team that won the Bush v. Gore court battle in 2000, writes in a Washington Post op-ed that Trump's "effort to disenfranchise voters" is "as un-American as it gets." Rejecting Trump's warnings of massive fraud, Ginsberg said, "Proof of systematic fraud has become the Loch Ness monster of the Republican Party. People have spent a lot of time looking for it, but it doesn’t exist."
  • Federal judges have ordered the U.S. Postal Service to take a series of measures to ensure mail-in ballots nationwide are delivered in time to be counted, Forbes magazine reported. Service data shows that on-time delivery for ballots has been slipping nationwide and in key battleground states.
  • If Trump's desperation seems extreme, there's a reason for it. The New York Times reports that he has told advisers he expects to face intensifying scrutiny from prosecutors if he loses, He's concerned not only about existing investigations in New York, but the potential for new federal probes as well.
  • New Jersey State Police said a caravan of Trump supporters could be issued summonses for obstructing traffic Sunday on the Garden State Parkway, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • Trump lamented at a North Carolina rally that attempts to focus attention on his corruption allegations against Biden and his son Hunter didn't catch on. "Outside of what I say, it’s fading away," he said Monday. "You can’t have a scandal if nobody writes about it. … Nobody’s talking about it. It’s called suppression."

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