WARM SPRINGS, Ga. — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden declared on Tuesday the nation can overcome daunting health and economic challenges, even in the turmoil of 2020, invoking the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a speech from the Georgia hot springs town where FDR coped with polio.
Hoping to expand his electoral map and take on President Donald Trump in the generally conservative South, Biden evoked the architect of the New Deal to argue that America is not too politically diseased by partisan divisions to defy recovery. He pledged to be a unifying force who can “restore our soul and save this country.”
The former vice president offered his closing argument with Election Day just one week away while attempting to go on the political offensive in a state that hasn’t backed a Democrat for the White House since 1992. Under Trump, he said, “anger and suspicion is growing and our wounds are getting deeper.”
“Has the heart of this nation turned to stone? I don’t think so,” Biden said. “I refuse to believe it.”
Trump countered by focusing on the Democrats' “blue wall” states that he flipped in 2016 — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — and maintained a far busier travel schedule taking him to much more of the country.
At a cold, rain-soaked rally in the Michigan capital of Lansing, the president said Biden supported both the North American Free Trade Agreement and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, which he said hurt the auto industry and other manufacturing in the state.
“This election is a matter of economic survival for Michigan,” the president said, arguing that the state’s economy was strong before the coronavirus pandemic hit. “Look what I’ve done.”
Trump also assailed Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for moving aggressively to shutter much of the state’s economy to slow the virus' spread. He even seemed to cast doubt on federal authorities breaking up what they said was a plot to kidnap her, which Whitmer has argued Trump’s “violent rhetoric” helped spark.
“It was our people that helped her out with her problem. And we’ll have to see if it’s a problem. Right?” Trump said. “People are entitled to say ‘maybe it was a problem. Maybe it wasn’t.’”
Trump, who has seen his standing with suburban women slip in recent months, also said, “We’re getting your husbands back to work and everybody wants it,” adding of the pandemic, “The cure can never be worse than the problem itself.”
Biden, even as he predicted the country could rise above politics, went after his election rival, accusing Trump anew of bungling the federal response to the pandemic that has seen new cases surging in many areas, and failing to manage the economic fallout or combat institutional racism and police brutality that have sparked widespread demonstrations.
“The tragic truth of our time is that COVID has left a deep and lasting wound in this country,” Biden said, scoffing at Trump’s pronouncements that the nation is turning a corner on the virus. He charged that the president has “shrugged. He’s swaggered. And he’s surrendered.”
Venturing into Georgia was a sign of confidence by the Biden team, which is trying to stretch the electoral map and open up more paths to the needed 270 Electoral College votes. The former vice president plans to travel to Iowa, which Trump took by 10 points in 2016, later in the week. And his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, is hitting Arizona and deep red Texas.
Besides Lansing, Trump traveled to West Salem, Wisconsin, a trip coinciding with state COVID-19 records for daily hospitalizations and deaths.
First lady Melania Trump was on the road, too, making her first solo campaign trip of the year in Pennsylvania. And Vice President Mike Pence was in South Carolina, maintaining his campaign schedule despite several close aides testing positive for the coronavirus last weekend.
Hillary Clinton flirted with GOP territory in 2016, only to lose traditional Democratic Midwestern strongholds. But Biden’s team insists it is not spreading itself too thin.
Offering a fresh sign of the cash crunch Trump’s reelection campaign is facing, it canceled $5.7 million in TV advertising it previously reserved with the Republican National Committee in the crucial battleground of Florida for the election’s final week. The RNC stepped in to pay for $3.6 million of the canceled buy, according to data from the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG. The RNC, which recently had far more cash on hand than Trump’s campaign, has increasingly covered the cost of his advertising.
Biden will visit in coming days Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida, where former President Barack Obama gave a speech in Orlando on Tuesday, blistering Trump as only worrying about the virus because it was dominating news coverage.
“He’s jealous of COVID’s media coverage,” Obama said. “If he had been focused on COVID from the beginning, cases wouldn’t be reaching new record highs across the country this week.”
Trump expressed his displeasure that Fox News carried his Democratic predecessor’s speech live, complaining to reporters about it and tweeting the network was “playing Obama’s no crowd, fake speech for Biden.”
In Atglen, Pennsylvania, Melania Trump said she was feeling “so much better now,” just weeks after being diagnosed with the virus. She slammed Biden’s “socialist agenda,” praised her husband as “a fighter,” and also commented on the president’s use of social media.
“I don’t always agree the way he says things,” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd, “but it is important to him that he speaks directly to the people he serves.”
The Trumps left Washington for their campaign trips at the same time, and the president gave the first lady a quick peck on the cheek before they boarded separate planes.
While Biden rarely travels to more than one state per day, Trump has maintained a whirlwind schedule. His latest swing is also something of a victory lap after the Senate approved the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to give conservatives a commanding 6-3 advantage on the Supreme Court.
Biden, meanwhile, is hoping to lift Democrats running for Senate in Georgia and Iowa. Warm Springs is where Roosevelt sought treatment while governing a nation weathering the Great Depression and World War II. The former vice president called it “a reminder that though broken, each of us can be healed.”
“That, as a people and a country, we can overcome a devastating virus,” Biden said.
His appearance was meant to bookend his visit earlier this month to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when Biden used the site of the bloody Civil War battle to issue a call for putting country ahead of party. On Tuesday, he evoked Roosevelt’s New Deal sensitivities to say he could harness the power of the government to move the country forward.
“If you give me the honor of serving as your president, clear the decks for action,” he said. “For we will act.”
Weissert reported from Washington, Madhani from Lansing, Michigan. Associated Press Writers Michael Rubinkam in Atglen, Pennsylvania, Bill Barrow in Atlanta and Kevin Freking in Washington contributed.