WATERFORD, Mich. (CN) — President Donald Trump visited Michigan on Friday for a campaign rally just four days before the election and as the state sees Covid-19 cases spiral upwards to the highest numbers since the pandemic began.
The rally was held at the Oakland County International Airport in Waterford, about 35 miles outside Detroit, where attendees were told they would be given a temperature check and were provided masks they were instructed to wear, although some in attendance could be seen without them.
Trump, who is trailing in the polls, ascended to the stage and threw red “Make America Great Again” hats into the adoring crowd.
“It’s cold but I feel very warm in this group,” he said. “Four days from now we are going to win this state.”
He told the crowd that “there’s nobody” at the rallies Democratic candidate Joe Biden holds.
“At least he’s doing rallies, he got out of the basement,” Trump said to laughter.
The president touted the work done to develop a vaccine for Covid-19 and claimed without evidence that it would be delivered in “just a number of weeks” since he cut the red tape. He repeated his claim that the country is “rounding the corner” and that the whole pandemic was “China’s fault.”
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released a stricter order Thursday to confront the rising case numbers with a limit of 50 people for nonresidential gatherings and a requirement that restaurants record the names and phone numbers of all guests for contact tracing purposes. The order does not involve polling places or voting locations.
“Under the Biden lockdown, thousands will die from suicide and drug addiction,” the president predicted of a potential Biden administration.
With the temperature hovering just below 40 degrees, Trump mocked Biden for forecasting a dark winter and brought up his own Covid infection and recovery as an example that it can be defeated. Without mentioning Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer by name, he said the state must be reopened, drawing a chant of “lock her up” from the crowd. Whitmer, a frequent target of right-wing vitriol, was the focus of a kidnapping plot foiled by FBI agents.
“Not me, see?” Trump said cheekily of the chants. “They blame me every time that happens.”
The president’s Democratic challenger was back in the crosshairs when Trump talked about the loss of manufacturing jobs in Michigan, claiming the former vice president was responsible because of the policies of the Obama administration.
“Biden twisted the knife into the back of Michigan workers,” he said.
The Republican incumbent also talked about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and claimed he saved America from disaster when he pulled out of the deal in 2017. He also made a point to thank union workers for their votes but was not impressed with union bosses.
“Your leadership sucks,” he said to the crowd. “The teamsters like me.”
He claimed that if Biden won, the state’s economy would most likely tank.
“A vote for Biden is a vote to extinguish, demolish and wipe out Michigan’s auto industry and many of your other industries,” Trump said. “When we win, Michigan wins.”
The president has thrown caution to the wind with his trademark rallies, which still attract big crowds, but it is unclear if they help him bring new supporters into the fold.
Jeffrey Bernstein, political science professor at Eastern Michigan University, does not believe Trump can move the needle much.
“I am skeptical that rallies do a great deal to move voters - those who attend are likely to already be strong partisans,” he said in an email.
With his tight 2016 Michigan victory over Hillary Clinton in the rear-view mirror, the president has trailed Democrat challenger Joe Biden in the polls this election cycle and the window of opportunity appears to be almost closed, according to Bernstein.
“Even any late-breaking ‘October surprise’ would have a muted impact at this point, since over 2.3 million Michigan votes have already been turned in, which is close to half the expected vote total in Michigan for this year,” the professor said. “He can try for economic appeals - the economy seems to be his strongest area in the polling - but I just don't think many voters are still ripe for persuasion. The name of the game at this point is mobilization, although much of this has already happened due to mail-in voting.”
David Jesuit, department chair and professor of political science at Central Michigan University, concedes it is not over yet but thinks the chances of a Trump reelection are increasingly slim.
“Of course he has a non-zero chance…it’s an unlikely outcome,” he said in a phone interview.
The president’s rallies have spurred backlash over the potential to spread Covid-19, but Jesuit said they might be the only thing left to combat a Biden campaign flush with cash.
“You can kind of offset some of that through the free media every time he’s at a rally, so that’s worth something,” he said.“Having a rally like that, you’re not going to change a lot of people’s minds but you can fire them up to make sure they will stand in line for as long as it takes on Tuesday. Even if it’s only 3%, it was so close in 2016, having the rally, if you attract 2% it’s probably worth it. In non-Covid times it would be a no-brainer to get all this media.”
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