Barack Obama, Joe Biden make a final appeal to Michigan's Black voters in U.S. election
Former president critical of Trump's approach to the pandemic, presidency
Calling Joe Biden his "brother," former U.S. president Barack Obama accused President Donald Trump on Saturday of failing to take the coronavirus pandemic and the presidency seriously, as Democrats leaned on the first U.S. Black president to energize Black voters in battleground Michigan on the final weekend of the 2020 election campaign.
Obama, the country's 44th president, and Biden, his vice-president who wants to be the 46th, held drive-in rallies in Flint and Detroit, predominantly Black cities where strong turnout will be essential to swing the longtime Democratic state to Biden's column after Trump won it in 2016.
The memories of Trump's upset win in Michigan and the rest of the upper Midwest are still searing in the minds of many Democrats during this closing stretch. That leaves Biden in the position of holding a consistent lead in the national polls and an advantage in most battlegrounds, including Michigan, yet still facing anxiety that it could all slip away.
As of Saturday, nearly 92 million voters had already cast ballots nationwide, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Tens of millions more will vote by the time polls close on Tuesday night.
Obama said he initially hoped "for the country's sake" that Trump "might take the job seriously. He never has."
WATCH | Obama criticizes Trump's approach to pandemic, presidency:
The former president, addressing voters in dozens of cars in a Flint high school parking lot, seized on Trump's continued focus on the size of his campaign crowds.
"Did no one come to his birthday party when he was a kid? Was he traumatized?" Obama mocked. "The country's going through a pandemic. That's not what you're supposed to be worrying about."
Biden, Trump trade barbs
Throughout the day, Trump and Biden, both septuagenarians, threw stinging barbs at one another that at moments verged into schoolyard taunt territory.
Speaking in Flint, Biden joked of Trump, "When you were in high school, wouldn't you have liked to take a shot?" He also mocked the president as a "macho man."
Trump, too, on Saturday suggested he could beat up Biden if given the chance and suggested the former vice-president wears sunglasses to cover up "surgery on the eyes."
"He's not a big guy," Trump said of Biden. "A slight slap, you wouldn't have to close your fist."
Later in Detroit, Biden ridiculed Trump for calling himself a "perfect specimen," called him Russian President Vladimir Putin's "puppy," and joked about a New York Times report that showed Trump had spent $70,000 US on hair care.
R&B legend Stevie Wonder, performed at the Detroit event. "The only way we're gonna win this fight, a fight against injustice, is by voting," Wonder, who is from Saginaw, told a crowd gathered at the drive-in rally.
Wonder called the Nov. 3 election "the most important one in my lifetime."
U.S. Representative Dan Kildee, a Democrat who represents the Flint area, said he had been pressing for a couple of months for Biden or Obama to visit Flint, a city bedevilled by a water crisis that began in 2014 and sickened the city's residents, exposing stark racial inequities.
"Showing up matters," Kildee said. "The message is important, no question about it. But there's a message implicit in showing up, especially in Flint. This is a community that has felt left behind many, many times and overlooked many, many times.
"It's a message to the people here that they matter, their vote matters," Kildee said. "I think that helps."
Biden's campaign announced it was sending Obama to Florida and Georgia on Monday. He is the campaign's most valuable asset to help energize the non-white voters Democrats so badly need to defeat Trump. "Joe Biden is my brother. I love Joe Biden, and he will be a great president," Obama said.
Black voter turnout poor in Flint, Detroit
The press for Michigan's Black voters comes after voting was down roughly 15 per cent in Flint and Detroit four years ago — a combined 48,000-plus votes in a state Trump carried by about 10,700 votes. Overall, the Black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6 per cent in 2016 after reaching a record-high 66.6 per cent four years earlier, according to the Pew Research Center.
Some Democrats say the dynamic is different this year. Jonathan Kinloch leads the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party, which includes parts of Detroit, and expressed confidence that Black voters will turn out for Biden.
"This is not 2016," said Kinloch, who is Black. "People are motivated. People are energized and ready to right the wrong of 2016."
But Trump isn't ceding Michigan to Biden. He visited Waterford Township, near Detroit, on Friday and held a rally in the state capital of Lansing earlier in the week.
While Biden is expected to win the vast majority of Black voters in next week's election, Trump has also courted them and hopes to shave into Democrats' historic advantage in the community.
In his Michigan visits, Trump argued that he's been a better steward of their interests, while pillorying the state's Democratic governor over restrictions in the state she's implemented to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 229,000 Americans nationally and infected more than nine million.
Trump argued that he had followed through on promoting trade policies that have benefited Michigan's auto industry over the last four years. And although Obama steered about $80 billion to bail out General Motors and Chrysler, Trump argued that he and Biden didn't do enough to help manufacturing workers when the Great Recession jolted the auto industry a decade ago.
"At every turn, Biden twisted the knife into the back of Michigan workers and workers all over the country," Trump said at his rally in Waterford on Friday. "In 2016, Michigan voted to fire this corrupt political establishment, and you elected an outsider as president."
With the election down to the final days, Trump's closing sprint includes four stops in Pennsylvania on Saturday and nearly a dozen events in the final 48 hours across states he carried in 2016.
Return to Pennsylvania on Monday
Biden will close out his campaign on Monday in Pennsylvania, the state where he was born and the one he's visited more than any other in his campaign. The Biden team announced that Biden, his wife, Jill, his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, and her husband, Doug Emhoff, plan to "fan out across all four corners of the state."
The former vice-president campaigned in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin on Friday. Trump also visited Minnesota and Wisconsin, in addition to his stop in Michigan on Friday.
Biden campaigned in Iowa for the first time since the state's Democratic caucuses more than eight months ago. Trump easily won the state in 2016, but polls show a competitive race with days to go.
Biden noted as he spoke at a drive-in rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds that, for the first time since the Second World War, the iconic state fair had to be cancelled because of the pandemic.
He pledged to enact a plan to halt the spread of the virus and told the crowd, to honks from the cars gathered, "unlike Donald Trump, we will not surrender to the virus."
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