As early voting begins in North Carolina, Joe Biden urged supporters in the state to cast their ballots as soon as possible and slammed his opponent Donald Trump for his response to the coronavirus pandemic and failure to protect Americans from its the economic fallout.
Infections reached a single-day high in several states on Friday, with total confirmed cases reaching nearly 70,000 – the highest point since July – amid a third “surge” of infections eight months into the public health crisis.
The former vice president took issue with the president’s claim at a campaign rally in Wisconsin on Saturday that the US had “turned the corner."
"My grandfather would say this guy’s gone around the bend if he thinks we’ve turned the corner,” Mr Biden said from the parking lot of Riverside High School in Durham, one of his campaign’s socially distant “drive-thru” rallies, with supporters blaring their horns in parking lots.
“Turned the corner? It’s getting worse," he said. "He continues to lie to us about the circumstances."
Supporters could be heard calling out to “send him home, Joe.”
The state emerged as a critical battleground that the Democratic presidential candidate aims to flip – no Democratic presidential candidate has won the state since the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
A recent poll from The New York Times/Siena College found Mr Biden with the support of 46 percent of likely voters, compared with 42 percent for the president.
In a virtual event on Friday, Biden campaign manager Jennifer O’Malley Dillon said that “without North Carolina, it’s very hard to imagine Donald Trump winning.”
Since early voting began in North Carolina on Thursday, more than 1.7m votes have been cast, including more than 828,000 ballots from in-person voters. Within days, nearly 20 per cent of the state’s voting population has cast their ballot.
The candidate urged residents to vote in a number of down-ballot races aiming for key Democratic victories, including a US Senate race between Republican Senator Thom Tillis and Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham.
"Don’t just vote for me and Senator Harris," Mr Biden said. “You’ve got a governor’s race, a Senate race, a record number of Black women on the ballot, Congress and lieutenant governor, labour commissioner and the courts.”
Mr Biden underscored that “times are hard” in the US and in North Carolina, particulary among communities of colour.
"How do we break that cycle where in good times, you lag behind, in bad times, you get hit the hardest and first?” Mr Biden said. “The answer is about justice.”
Nearly 20,000 people claimed unemployment benefits in the state last week, up more than 22 per cent from the previous week – a second consecutive week of rising jobless claims. Peak unemployment claims during the pandemic hit more than 170,000 in March.
He criticised the White House response and failed efforts from the president to negotiate relief for out-of-work Americans facing a potential rental crisis and looming threats to healthcare.
“The president has known how bad this virus would be since January and he hid it from you,” Mr Biden said. “His excuse is that he didn’t want Americans to panic. Americans don’t panic. Donald Trump panics.”
In his pitch to expand the Affordable Care Act, Mr Biden condemned Republican-led efforts to confirm the president’s Supreme Court nominee in the Senate “instead of addressing the significant economic needs of local communities.”
"It’s about wiping Obamacare off the books," he said.
Democrats have argued that Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the nation’s high court could tip the court in favour of the Trump administration’s attempt to dismantle the law, which could eliminate health insurance for millions of Americans without a replacement measure that the president has claimed is imminent.