WASHINGTON – Coming off the final debate with Democratic opponent Joe Biden, President Donald Trump began the closing push of his re-election campaign Friday by returning to one of the most crucial states in presidential politics: Florida.
"Eleven days from now, we're going to win the state of Florida, we're going to win four more years," Trump told supporters at a retirement community as he bashed Biden over threats to the oil industry, immigration policies, and his son Hunter's business activities.
Recent polls show Biden with a lead of eight percentage points or more nationally, though Trump is looking to string together enough battleground states to repeat his 2016 upset with another Electoral College victory.
As Trump stumped Florida, Biden delivered a speech in Wilmington, Del, to propose a COVID-19 recovery plan that the incumbent president has failed to deliver.
“I know how much President Trump has damaged faith in our institutions,” Biden said. "We have to rebuild the trust between the public and its public servants. It’s one of the most difficult tasks we’ll face in the coming years.”
In his rally at The Villages, a large retirement community in northern Florida, Trump replayed what he viewed as the highlights from the debate. They included a moment when Biden said the nation was preparing for a much more difficult battle with the pandemic as the weather turns cold and infections begin to increase again.
"Darkness, darkness. It's always darkness," Trump said. "It’s a gloomy vision."
The president also went after Biden's position on energy independence and the issue of fracking. Biden offered confusing remarks on the issue during the primary. He said at one point he opposed "new fracking" but his campaign later clarified that he only opposed new fracking and oil drilling on public lands.
"Texas, are you watching?" Trump told supporters in Florida, echoing lines from the debate. "Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Ohio, are you watching?'"
After Biden said during the debate he had never opposed fracking, Trump posted a video to Twitter hours later with clips of Biden suggesting he supports phasing out the nation's reliance on fossil fuels.
"That could be one of the worst mistakes made in presidential debate history," Trump asserted in Florida. "We hope it is."
Biden has also said that phasing out the nation's over-reliance on oil will take years, and that development of alternative energy sources will spawn millions of news jobs.
Trump continued to hammer Biden during an evening rally in Pensacola, returning to many of the same themes he raised during the debate and predicted that his Democratic foe would "lose five or six states" over his comments on energy.
"Even you don't like it," Trump told the crowd in Pensacola during about 70 minutes of remarks. "You know why you don't like it? Because you like your gasoline at $2 and less a gallon, right?"
Even as he criticized the Biden campaign for seeking to limit some fossil fuel production, Trump repeatedly touted his order this fall extending a prohibition on offshore oil drilling off the coast of Florida.
Trump also played a video for supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., quizzing Biden on his past remarks about reducing Social Security and Medicare benefits – reprising a line of attack the Trump campaign has been pushed for weeks. Biden has indicated support for changes to those programs in the past, though that was not the case during his vice presidency or his current campaign.
Both Trump and Biden are focusing on key states in the final days of the race, with Trump holding an ever more intense schedule of rallies over the next several days in Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
The last push of campaigning follows a debate in which many analysts said Trump performed well, even if they question the impact it will have on a race that has remained largely frozen in place for weeks.
Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican political consultant, said Trump "won more of the exchanges than he lost" in the debate with Biden, and he expects the president to pick up in the polls.
After campaigning Friday in Florida, Trump spends Saturday in North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin. His campaign is planning a Monday tour of Pennsylvania.
Trump "can still win," but is "slightly behind," Mackowiak said, adding that "he will get a polling bump out of the debate."
The president is expected to echo his debate strategy, as he did during his Florida rally: Defend his handling of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic while attacking his Democratic opponent politically and personally – painting him as a career politician with a mixed record at best.
Accusing Biden and allies of pursuing "socialist" policies, Trump claimed a Democratic victory would produce a variety of economic ills, from higher taxes to elimination of the oil and natural gas industry.
Trump and his allies, citing unverified emails published by the New York Post, are also accusing Biden of involvement in son Hunter's business dealings in Ukraine and China. The emails in question do not mention the former vice president by name, the FBI is investigating their origin and Biden has dismissed them as Russian disinformation.
In the debate, Biden said he has not earned a "penny" from foreign sources. He also noted that Trump is the one who has done business with foreign entities, noting the president had a previously undisclosed Chinese bank account. Specifically what that account was used for is unclear, and Trump said it is no longer being used.
The Democratic nominee also said Trump's mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic helped lead to the loss of millions of jobs and the deaths of more than 220,000 Americans.
In his speech on Friday, Biden noted that the U.S. has 20% of the world's COVID-19 deaths, and only 4% of its population. Mocking Trump's claims that his coronavirus strategy is working, Biden said, "If this is a success, what does a failure look like?"
Speaking with reporters at the White House, Trump said, "I thought I did great” at the debate.
Jack Pitney, author of "Un-American: the Fake Patriotism of Donald J. Trump," said the president "did better in the second debate than in the first," but that probably won't be enough.
"He had to clobber Biden, and he fell way short," said Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. "With every passing day, it gets harder to see how he could win."
Before leaving for Florida, Trump, seeking to burnish his foreign policy credentials, spoke with the leaders of Israel and Sudan about their new peace deal, the latest in a string of Middle East agreements.
“There are many, many more coming," Trump said. "This is one where there’s no blood in the sand.”
Trump brought up U.S. election politics during the call, asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if Biden would have made such a deal.
The prime minister did not criticize Biden, saying: "Well ... Mr. President, one thing I can tell you is we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump heads to Florida ahead of election after final debate with Biden