US President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden have moved their battle to the crucial midwestern states, where the coronavirus has roared back, with Mr Trump falsely accusing doctors of profiting from COVID-19 deaths while Mr Biden said Mr Trump had surrendered to the pandemic.
In Wisconsin, where new cases doubled last week, Mr Trump urged the state’s Democratic governor to lift restrictions that aim to slow the virus’ spread. Most in the crowd of several thousand did not wear masks.
“You’ve got to open up your state and you’ve got to do it fast!” Mr Trump said at the rally on Friday (local time), with just four days to go before the election.
Earlier in the day in Michigan, Mr Trump attacked the US medical system, falsely claiming “our doctors get more money if someone dies from COVID.”
Mr Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by a margin of less than a percentage point, but Mr Biden currently leads polling for the state by up to nine points.
In Minnesota, Mr Biden accused Mr Trump of “giving up” in the fight against the coronavirus and said he should not attack medical personnel who are treating its victims.
“Unlike Donald Trump, we will not surrender to this virus,” he said. Supporters, socially distanced in their cars at the state fairground, and honked their horns in agreement.
The coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 229,000 people in the United States and cost millions more their jobs, has dominated the final days of the campaign.
A record surge of cases is pushing hospitals to the brink of capacity. The news pushed Wall Street to its worst week since March, undercutting one of Mr Trump’s main arguments for re-election.
Mr Trump, who recovered from COVID-19 weeks ago, has played down the health crisis for months, telling supporters in recent weeks the country is “turning the corner” even as cases surge. Mr Biden has warned of a “dark winter” ahead and promised a renewed effort to contain the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said there had been 91,248 new cases in 24 hours, with more than 1,000 deaths the previous day.
Mr Biden leads Mr Trump 52 per cent to 42 per cent in Reuters/IPSOS national opinion polling, partly because of widespread disapproval of his handling of the pandemic. Opinion polls show a closer contest in the most competitive states that will decide the election.
The candidates campaigned as Americans rushed to cast their vote.
Across the country, more than 84.5 million Americans have already posted their ballot or voted in person.
The bulk of the votes – 25 million – have been cast in the three most populous states, California, Texas and Florida.
The focus on the upper midwest underlined the region’s importance in the race. Michigan and Wisconsin were two of the three historically Democratic industrial states, along with Pennsylvania, that narrowly voted for the Republican Trump in 2016, delivering him an upset victory.
Mr Biden leads Mr Trump by nine percentage points in Michigan and Wisconsin and five points in Pennsylvania, according to Reuters/IPSOS polling.
More than 85 million votes have been cast either by mail or in person, roughly 62 per cent of the total number of votes in the entire 2016 election, according to the US Elections Project at the University of Florida.
In Texas, a traditionally Republican state where polls show Mr Biden and Mr Trump close, more than nine million people have cast ballots, eclipsing total turnout from 2016, the Texas secretary of state’s office said. Texas is the second state, along with Hawaii, to already surpass its 2016 total.
Early voting data shows that far more Democrats have voted by mail, while Republicans are expected to turn out in greater numbers on Tuesday.
This means preliminary results from states such as Pennsylvania that do not begin counting mail-in ballots until election day could show Mr Trump in the lead before flipping as more Democratic-heavy ballots are added.
Last-minute legal battles have added to the uncertainty.
On Thursday, a federal appeals court said Minnesota’s plan to count ballots that arrive after election day was illegal. That ruling came after the Supreme Court allowed North Carolina and Pennsylvania to keep similar deadlines in place.
Separately, a federal judge in Washington ordered the US Postal Service to take extra steps to ensure speedy delivery of mail ballots in areas where service has been slow.