Michael Collins USA TODAY
Published 1:19 AM EDT Sep 13, 2020
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump opened a three-day campaign swing through the West on Saturday by claiming Democrats are trying to steal the upcoming election and warning that Joe Biden is incapable of leading the country.
Discounting polls that show him running behind, Trump predicted at a campaign rally in Nevada that he would win a second term, but he told supporters that Democrats are trying to “rig” the election.
“It’s a rigged election – that’s the only way we’re going to lose,” he said, without offering any evidence, during the rally at Minden-Tahoe Airport, about an hour south of Reno.
Turning his attention to his Democratic challenger, Trump said: “Joe Biden cannot lead our country because he does not really believe in our country.”
The rally was the first stop on a campaign trip that will take Trump to Nevada and Arizona as he looks for ways to expand the electoral map with the Nov. 3 election less than two months away.
Campaign aides scrambled to find venues for the events in Nevada after local officials blocked their initial plans because they would have violated coronavirus health safety guidelines. Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, has limited in-person gatherings indoors and outdoors to 50 people since May, a recommendation based on White House reopening guidelines.
Trump’s campaign had originally planned to host airport rallies in Reno and Las Vegas. But the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority informed rally organizers that the 5,000-person event could not proceed after airport attorneys determined it would violate state and local COVID-containment directives.
The decision prompted outrage from Trump supporters who accused officials of canceling the events for partisan political reasons. Reno airport authorities forcefully denied those claims.
Officials at McCarran International Airport near Las Vegas said they never received a request for a Trump campaign event.
After the local officials’ objections, the Saturday night rally was moved from Reno to the much-smaller airport in Minden. In Las Vegas, Trump will host a roundtable discussion with a group of Latino supporters on Sunday and then rally supporters at a construction-equipment manufacturing facility in Henderson later that evening.
Another roundtable discussion with Latino supporters is planned for Monday in Phoenix.
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At Saturday’s event, Trump got his sought-after crowd despite the smaller venue. Some 5,000 supporters showed up, many arriving hours in advance. The vast majority did not wear masks or practice social distancing, crowding together shoulder-to-shoulder.
Trump opened his nearly 90-minute remarks by repeatedly jabbing at Sisolak and attacking Nevada’s election system. He called the governor “a political hack” and falsely claimed that he controls “millions of votes” in the state.
“The governor of your state tried very hard to stop us from having this event,” he said, drawing a chorus of loud boos from the crowd. “Now he’s in charge of the election and millions of ballots, so if I’m up like millions of votes, he can rig the election.”
Sisolak has said he wasn’t involved in the decision to block Trump’s original rally venue.
Nevada is home to about 1.7 million active, registered voters. Each appears likely to receive a mail-in ballot ahead of the general election, despite Trump’s efforts to block the Silver State’s temporary shift to a mostly mail-in election format.
Nevada Democrats slammed Trump for going ahead with campaign events in the state and accused him of putting politics above public health.
“After intentionally misleading the American people for months on end about the threat of the coronavirus, Trump continued to endanger Americans’ health by holding multiple in-person campaign rallies across the country, ignoring the White House’s own public health recommendations,” said state Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II.
“Trump is ignoring everyday Nevadans as we pay the price for Trump’s crisis with our lives and our livelihoods,” McCurdy said.
Trump, however, insisted that the U.S. is “rounding the turn” on coronavirus, even as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 approaches 200,000.
Trump also lamented what he said was a lack of news coverage of his second nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize, relitigated old scores with his 2016 opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, and questioned Biden’s mental fitness for office.
“Let’s face it: Joe is shot,” he said. “He doesn’t know what’s happening.”
At one point, Trump suggested that Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, would be president “within a month” if Biden wins.
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With Trump trailing in a number of battleground states, his campaign sees Nevada as an opportunity to expand the electoral map in his quest for 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term.
No Republican presidential candidate has carried Nevada since George W. Bush won there in 2004. Trump lost the state to Clinton by just 2 percentage points in 2016, but his campaign believes the inroads he has made among Latinos – a key constituency in Nevada – make the state competitive this year.
A New York Times/Sienna College poll released just hours before Saturday’s rally showed Trump trailing Biden by 4 percentage points in Nevada.
Trump, however, predicted he would carry the state.
“I’ve been here a lot in my life, and I know it well,” he told reporters. “I think we’re gonna win it.”
Both campaigns have spent about $4.5 million in Nevada, while Trump has made $5.5 million in future reservations in the state and Biden has allocated $2.5 million, according to the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.
Polls also show Trump lagging behind Biden in the crucial battleground of Arizona, a state he won by nearly 4 percentage points in 2016. Biden holds an average lead of 4.8 percentage points in the Grand Canyon State, according to the political website RealClearPolitics.
Michael Collins covers the White House. Reach him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.
Contributing: The Associated Press and James DeHaven of the Reno Gazette Journal
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Published 1:19 AM EDT Sep 13, 2020