President Donald Trump dangled a promise to get a weary, fearful nation "back to normal" on Friday as he looked to campaign past the political damage of the devastating pandemic.
It was a tantalizingly rosy pitch in sharp contrast to Democratic rival Joe Biden, who pledged to level with America about tough days still ahead after Tuesday's election.
In a campaign that has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 227,000 Americans and staggered the economy, the candidates' clashing overtures stood as a reflection of their leadership styles and policy prescriptions for a suffering USA.
Trump and Biden both spent Friday crisscrossing the Midwest, the hardest-hit part of the nation in the latest surge of virus cases. Trump was in Michigan and Biden in Iowa before they both held events in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
With four days until the election and more than 86 million votes already cast, time is running out for Trump and Biden to change the contours of a race framed largely around the incumbent's handling of the pandemic. Biden is leading most national polls and has a narrow advantage in many of the critical battlegrounds that could decide the race.
Trump, billing himself as an optimist, says the nation has "turned the corner" from the outbreak that still kills about 1,000 Americans each day. He speaks hopefully of coming treatments and potential vaccines that have yet to receive approval. Biden dismisses Trump's talk as a siren song that can only prolong the virus, and pledges a nationwide focus on reinstituting measures meant to slow the spread of the disease.
"He said a long dark winter," Trump scoffed Friday at a rally in Michigan.
"Oh that's great, that's wonderful. Just what our country needs is a long dark winter and a leader who talks about it." Trump's rallies, which draw thousands of supporters, have served as representations of the sort of "reopening" he has been preaching.
With spotty use of masks and a lack of social distancing, they flout state and local guidelines that he deems too onerous as he speaks as though the virus has largely disappeared.
Trump and his aides speak openly about seeking the backing of those "fed up" by state restrictions, and he has encouraged chants among his supporters calling for the imprisonment of local officials who have instituted them. The president believes they represent part of a "silent majority" that will help him pull off another come-from-behind victory on Tuesday.
Biden, for his part, referenced Trump's comments last summer that the virus "is what it is." He told supporters in Des Moines, Iowa, that "it is what it is because he is who he is! These guys are something else, man." Biden has seized on comments by Trump's chief of staff that the virus can't be controlled and that the administration is focused instead on vaccines and therapeutics. By contrast, Biden is promising to step up the fight to contain the spread, including a mask mandate on federal property and pressure on governors to apply it in their states, and pledging to follow the advice of public health professionals on potentially strict safety rules.
Still, Biden appeared sensitive to Trump's closing cry that the Democrat would impose draconian measures more damaging than the the virus itself.
"I'm not going to shut down the country. I'm not going to shut down the economy," Biden tweeted Friday, responding directly to Trump's attack lines. "I'm going to shut down the virus." Trump's closing appeal to "Make America Great Again, Again" paints a bright image of the nation 's condition during pre-coronavirus times that contrasts with Biden's charge to "Build Back Better." The president's focus on returning the nation's economy to the boom times of 2019 resonates with some voters, but overlooks the divided and rancorous politics that swirled around impeachment and the persistent problems of inequality.
President’s new theory on doctors and COVID lies
As the United States continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump has accused the American doctors of lying about COVID-19 deaths for financial gain.
"If you have a bad heart and are ready to die or if you have cancer and you are going to be dying soon and you catch COVID-19 -- that happens -- we mark it down to COVID-19. Our doctors get more money if someone dies from Covid. You know that, right?" Trump made the allegations just a few days ahead of the Presidential elections.
"Our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is, they say, 'I'm sorry, but you know, everybody dies from Covid.' But in Germany and other places, if you have a heart attack, or have cancer, you're terminally ill, you catch Covid, they say you died of cancer or a heart attack. With us, when in doubt, choose Covid," Trump added.
"Thanks to our relentless efforts -- only 3 per cent of ER (emergency room) visits nationwide are related to the virus. We understand it (COVID-19) now but we are making the turn and the vaccines are coming," he added.