Early voting begins in crucial Florida as campaign enters closing stretch

(Reuters) – Early voting for the Nov. 3 presidential election begins in the crucial battleground state of Florida on Monday as a record 28 million Americans have already cast ballots with barely two weeks remaining in the campaign.

FILE PHOTO: A combination photo shows democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden looking on at a campaign event at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., August 12, 2020, and U.S. President Donald Trump talking to reporters prior to boarding Air Force One as he departs Washington on travel to Illinois and Wisconsin, September 1, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Leah Millis/File Photo

President Donald Trump, running out of time to change the dynamics of a race that polls show him losing, will visit Arizona on Monday after holding a rally in Nevada on Sunday and urging his supporters to vote amid signs that Democrats are leading the surge in early voting.

His Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who campaigned in another key state of North Carolina on Sunday, will spend the day at his home base in Delaware, while his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, heads to Florida to encourage supporters to vote early.

Florida is widely seen as a must-win for Trump, whose path to victory becomes razor-thin if he loses the southern state. The state’s prize of 29 electoral votes is tied with New York for third most, behind only California and Texas, in the race for the 270 Electoral College votes that determine the presidential winner under the U.S. system.

The Oct. 7-14 Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Biden with 49% of the support and Trump 47%, within the survey’s credibility interval of 4 percentage points.

Both campaigns have poured advertising money into Florida, although Biden, who has significantly outraised Trump since the summer while setting consecutive monthly records for a U.S. candidate, has outspent his Republican rival.

Harris, who was given a clean bill of health after an aide tested positive for COVID-19, will participate in early-vote rallies in Orlando and Jacksonville, the campaign said.

Trump will stage rallies first in Prescott and later in Tucson, Arizona, another state for which both his campaign and Biden’s are competing.

The 27.9 million Americans who have already voted either by mail or in person, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, is a far greater number at this point in the campaign than previous years. Voters have now cast about 20% of the overall total in 2016, when more than 136.6 million cast ballots.

Democrats account for 55% of the 10.9 million ballots cast in states that report party registration data, compared with 24% for Republicans.

At a rally in Carson City, Nevada on Sunday, where voting began the day before, Trump implored his supporters to “get out and vote” to help him flip a state that he lost narrowly to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Despite his recent recovery from his own bout with the virus, Trump also mocked Biden in Nevada for his cautious approach toward the pandemic.

“Listen to the scientists!” Trump said in a mocking voice. “If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression.”

In North Carolina, a battleground where 1.4 million, or 20%, of the state’s registered voters had already voted as of Sunday morning, Biden urged residents to cast ballots as soon as possible, and attacked Trump for saying the country had “turned the corner” on the pandemic.

“Things are getting worse, and he continues to lie to us about circumstances,” Biden said.

Biden and Trump debate for a final time on Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee.

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