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Virus aside, Sunshine State might offer another presidential cliffhanger

President Donald Trump speaks to a mostly maskless

President Donald Trump speaks to a mostly maskless crowd at a campaign rally Tuesday in Winston-Salem, N.C. Credit: Bloomberg / Logan Cyrus

Dead heat, Florida-style

Eight weeks before Election Day, President Donald Trump is trying to keep a tenuous hold on Florida, which became his home state while in office and where ironically he votes by mail ballot. A new NBC/Marist poll shows him neck and neck with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, as both men draw 48% of likely voters.

The poll finds Biden doing better with seniors in the state than Hillary Clinton did four years ago, but Trump is still ahead among Latinos there. Trump leads on which candidate would better handle the economy, while Biden has the advantage on the coronavirus and race relations, the network reported.

“It’s not unusual for Florida to be this close,” says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the survey. That's an understatement. Trump won its 29 electoral votes by just above 1% in 2016.

According to the Miami Herald, which issued its own poll with the firm Bendixen & Amandi International, Biden is heavily favored in Miami-Dade, the state's most populous county. But Trump shows enough of an inroad in that Democratic stronghold to add significantly to his big GOP numbers from elsewhere in the state. Part of that is from conservative-leaning Cuban Americans who backed Trump over Biden by 38 points in the poll.

One sign of the state's personal importance to Trump is that he used a campaign visit there Tuesday to announce a rare official policy — rare in that it goes against energy lobbyists, with whom he usually sides at the expense of environmental concerns.

The president extended an existing ban for another 10 years on new oil drilling off the coast of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. He suddenly declared himself an environmentalist. No plan was evident to take the same step in blue states he's likely to lose, such as California, where calls to restrict drilling go unheeded by the Trump administration.

While in Jupiter, Florida, where he arrived by motorcade, Trump boasted of job generation, despite the current coronavirus-related recession. Earlier at West Palm Beach airport, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state's COVID-19 death toll has reached 11,914, wore a face mask to greet Trump. The president, however, declined to wear one.

High heat, New York-style

Back in Trump's native blue state, where Biden is all but assured of scooping up another 29 electoral votes, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo hurled some new hyperbole at high velocity. He accused the president and his administration of "actively trying to kill New York City," of conducting a "war on cities" and even causing “the Covid outbreak in New York,” because a federal ban on travel from Europe proved “too little, too late.” 

Trump did the equivalent of sticking his tongue out on Twitter. He taunted Cuomo's broadcaster brother Chris Cuomo again as "Fredo" and said, "New York City must stop the Shutdown now. The Governor & Mayor are destroying the place!" That was among 50-plus tweets he posted before and during his campaign trip to Florida and North Carolina.

Just the vaxx, please

Battered by Biden and others for a slow and passive pandemic response, Trump pushes the notion that because of him, a COVID-19 vaccine for Americans is just around the corner.

A federal official involved in the process, however, became the latest to temper expectations, telling CNN: "I don't know any scientist involved in this effort who thinks we will be getting shots into arms any time before Election Day." 

Although Trump's electoral motives went unmentioned, drug manufacturers took it on themselves to try to reassure the public that the vaccine will be safe and effective, not rushed by political pressure, before the companies seek federal approval.

The top executives of nine drugmakers likely to produce the first vaccines against the coronavirus issued a pledge Tuesday to maintain the highest ethical and scientific standards in testing and producing the vaccines. Some have expressed concern that Trump's Food and Drug Administration could jump the gun on completion of the vaccine trials under pressure from the president.

The pledge was signed by the CEOs of American drugmakers Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer and European companies AstraZeneca, BioNTech, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi.

Trump's cash crash

Five years ago, Trump said just after announcing his first candidacy: “I don’t need anybody’s money. It’s nice. I don’t need anybody’s money. I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.”

Fast-forward to now. Contributors backing his campaign ended up including lobbyists, special interests, average Americans, you name it, and the collecting continued right on through the outset of his current term. And yet the Trump campaign has blown its fundraising edge over Biden. Of $1.1 billion raised through July, the Trump campaign burned through $800 million.

So on Tuesday, as he left Joint Base Andrews on a campaign trip, Trump was asked if he'd start spending his own money to get reelected. “If I have to, I would,” Trump said. “But we don’t have to.” Or do they? Last time, it was reported that he contributed $66 million to his 2016 campaign but since then, he has not distanced himself from his businesses, which have benefited in part from his presidency.

Still stimu-less

Agreement has been elusive on a new coronavirus aid bill to keep the economy stimulated, but the Senate is going through some of the motions even as the parties remain stalemated.

Senate Republicans are proposing to beef up a “skinny” relief package by more than 100 pages, including an enhanced deduction for charitable giving, $20 billion for farmers and ranchers and money for child care and stockpiling medical supplies, the Roll Call news site reports.

The package is not expected to win needed Democratic approval. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his house could vote anyway on Thursday. He added the new proposal would be "targeted" to "the very most urgent" needs. As before, the White House seems to have no impact in hurrying any action along.

Soldier distancing

The U.S. Army's most senior officer on Tuesday firmly rebuffed and distanced the military from Trump's claim that Pentagon leaders like fighting foreign wars to mollify armament makers, a portrayal of military brass by the commander in chief on Monday.

"Senior leaders would only recommend sending troops to combat when it's required as national security, or as a last resort," Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said in a virtual event with the news site Defense One. "I feel strongly about that."

McConville earlier said the military is apolitical and must remain that way particularly during an election year. So far Trump hasn't explained why, if his claim is true, he frequently boasts of having ballooned the military budget, adding significantly to the federal deficit, or why he picked former defense contractor lobbyist Mark Esper as his current defense secretary. 

Did N.C. mean 'No Covid'?

Trump held an airport rally in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he issued a batch of unfounded claims against the state's Democratic officials who he alleged somehow were carrying out nefarious plots against him.

In a strategic fiasco, the Republican convention planned for the state last month was turned virtual due to the local spread of COVID-19. On Tuesday he returned to his earlier "reopen" rhetoric in which he said battleground states like Michigan and North Carolina were kept "shut" for "political reasons." Many states and localities have phased in reopenings by industry as the coronavirus has killed over 189,000 in the U.S. and a second wave is feared.

"On Nov. 4th, every one of those states will be open," he said, again deriding mail-in voting expansion due to the pandemic. At one point, he suggested his campaign misrepresented the nature of the rally as "peaceful protests" to get around local rules for crowd sizes for gatherings, a coy assertion he's made before.

Coronavirus denial seemed to be fashionable in the crowd, where many didn't wear masks as required to minimize virus spread. Many businesses are still closed in the state.

More coronavirus news

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

What else is happening:

  • The White House Rose Garden has been a muddy mess and the South Lawn marred by brown patches since Trump used them for last month’s Republican National Convention, The Associated Press reports.
  • In Pennsylvania, political polarization has widened between blue-collar and white-collar workers, The Wall Street Journal reports.
  • A gold-painted statue portraying Trump in a golf-cart running over the symbolic graves of people who died of COVID-19 was placed in Battery Park.
  • Voters who helped elect Trump in 2016 are lagging in motivation this time out, Reuters reports.
  • Kanye West, a friend of Trump, has made the presidential ballot in Mississippi, apparently to siphon votes from Biden.
  • The Justice Department is moving to take over Trump's defense in a private defamation suit brought by advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, who alleges citizen Trump raped her two decades ago.

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