President Trump flew to Midwest battlegrounds Monday to trumpet the pre-pandemic economy and paint an apocalyptic picture of what would happen if he loses on Election Day, as polls showed a narrowing race with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden ahead of a virtual Democratic National Convention.
Mr. Trump is touting a gradual recovery after the pandemic threw millions out of work, sideswiped college football and put mom-and-pop shops on the brink of collapse, forcing him to promise a vaccine and better days ahead as the death toll surpasses 170,000.
But his choice of venue was the point: Mr. Trump showed his face in swing-state Wisconsin, while Mr. Biden and Democrats courted voters far away from their planned host city of Milwaukee.
“Joe Biden has no enthusiasm, and you don’t win without enthusiasm,” Mr. Trump said in Oshkosh.
In a one-day sprint, the president regaled supporters across three locations in Wisconsin and Minnesota with his greatest economic hits, from restarting iron mines to rewriting trade deals, hoping to remind critical Midwest voters of good times before the pandemic as Democrats kicked off online festivities.
“We built the greatest economy in the world and now I have to do it again,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s God testing me.”
Mr. Trump plans to rebut Democrats and highlight his hardline immigration policies in a western battleground, Arizona, on Tuesday before capping the week in Mr. Biden’s birth-state — Pennsylvania — ahead of the Democratic nominee’s primetime speech on Thursday.
The president contrasted the Democrats’ recorded speeches with his own, which will be delivered live from the White House on Thursday of next week.
“Who wants to listen to Michelle Obama do a taped speech?” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump has consistently trailed in nationals polls, though a new poll of registered voters from CNN shows the president gaining ground on Mr. Biden.
Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump by 4 percentage points, 50-46, in the national survey conducted from August 12 to Aug. 15 by SSRS for CNN. The former vice president has lost significant ground since June when he led Mr. Trump by 14 percentage points, 55-41.
The president and Mr. Biden are also statistically tied across 15 battleground states with Mr. Biden edging Mr. Trump, 49% to 48%. Mr. Trump won 10 of the 15 states CNN has deemed battleground territory in 2020.
Even Mr. Trump seemed surprised by the numbers.
“Frankly, their pollster is much better than Fox,” Mr. Trump said.
From a Mankato airport hangar, Mr. Trump characterized Mr. Biden as a leftist extremist who will be outfoxed by foreign strongmen, allow the “mob” to take over in U.S. cities and turn the country into Venezuela.
“Biden is just a Trojan horse for socialism,” Mr. Trump said.
He complained the U.S. was unfairly hit by the coronavirus that began in China and blanketed the world, forcing Americans into a patchwork of lockdowns and upending the 2020 campaign.
Mr. Trump said the “China plague will fade,” though didn’t say how. At the same time, Mr. Trump said he would support new stimulus checks for Americans and money to bolster the post office amid questions about slow delivery.
“We want to strengthen the post office, make it good,” Mr. Trump said.
He said his administration’s efforts to mitigate the pandemic and shield the vulnerable are paying off, even as he weathers blistering criticism over the federal response.
The U.S. accounts for more than a fifth of global coronavirus deaths despite having 4.25% of the world’s population. And while Mr. Trump urges schools to open across the board, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said Monday it will transition all of its students to online learning on Wednesday, citing over 130 cases a week into the fall semester.
Wins in North Carolina, the Rust Belt and the upper Midwest were critical for Mr. Trump in 2016.
He snatched Wisconsin from Democrats by less than 1 percentage point, yet Hillary Clinton won Minnesota by about 45,000 votes.
“One more speech, I woulda won,” Mr. Trump said in Mankato.
Mr. Trump hopes to take Minnesota this time and broaden the map elsewhere — New Mexico, for instance, but he mentioned long shots like New Jersey and Virginia Monday — as Mr. Biden looks to lock down states that went blue in 2016 and swipe electoral vote-rich states like Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Monday’s events had the feel of rallies Mr. Trump held before the pandemic, from attacks on Mrs. Clinton to a loud soundtrack featuring The Village People.
Democrats faulted Mr. Trump for gathering supporters amid a respiratory pandemic.
“For months, Trump has claimed the virus would disappear and ignored the experts, and his political event in Wisconsin today shows Trump still isn’t taking this seriously,” DNC spokeswoman Lily Adams said. “This campaign photo op is a desperate attempt to distract from the Democratic convention, which will highlight stories of hardworking Americans hurt by Trump’s horrible coronavirus response.”
The president wanted to visit Iowa, too, to survey widespread damage from a high-wind derecho that struck a week ago, but his planners couldn’t pull it off at the last minute.
Mr. Trump did, however, stop for a rally-type speech to supporters on the tarmac at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, blasting state and local leaders for riots in Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd. He greeted business owners who said their businesses were set ablaze during the protests.
The president said there would be no mention of these “innocent victims” during DNC festivities.
“All they wanted was to live the American Dream,” Mr. Trump said. “Their dreams were burned to the ground.”
• Ryan Lovelace contributed to this report.
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